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The owl arrived at midnight, almost in time with the booming gong of the grandfather clock in Draco’s living room; the scroll it carried was sealed with a thick Ministry wax stamp that made it look awfully official and therefore unappealing to Draco. For a moment he thought about not accepting it at all, almost too lazy to get up from his book and his glass of Merlot and greet the owl.

The bird look at him for a few moments with honey colored eyes, gaze unwavering and patient. The bloody thing would wait it out, Draco realized almost defeatedly, and got out of his armchair to pad over to the window. He awarded the owl for its patience with a biscuit from the tea table and took the letter, wearily watching it settle down to wait for an answer.

The scroll was heavy and after contact Draco was overcome with an intense sense of urgency and the need to open it. He arched a brow at that and continued to weigh it in his hand, resisting the spell intricately wound around it for as long as physically comfortable. It was delicate, yet strong; subtle, yet unrelenting - Draco recognized the texture of it almost immediately. Granger’s spells had always had such a unique quality to them, it would have been difficult to miss who'd woven it.

He finally succumbed and settled back into his chair, breaking the seal holding the parchment together. There was an awful lot of official nonsense, introductions, his full name and title, a recounting of his efforts and accomplishments, expressions of gratitude and so forth. Draco heaved another deep sigh and reached for his wineglass, foregoing almost all of the blather, hoping to get to the heart of the matter before he was out of wine. Praise from the Ministry was hardly ever a good thing, and could only mean that they needed something rather badly, if they were resorting to contacting him of all people.

His guess was as right as it’d been easy; halfway down the parchment it became clear that the Ministry was in fact in need of assistance. The information provided was sparse; there was a spell which had been discovered along with a variety of objects, and they were having trouble picking it apart. This and the following rough outline of said spell - a curse at that - were enough to pique his interest. The sketch was devoid of detail, two dimensional and flat, but in the quivering lines of dark blue ink Draco could see a certain beauty, something intricate and compelling, something challenging. He had not been properly challenged in a long time and found it hard to resist breaking the spell up in his head, even with as little information as he had at hand. He had always loved a good challenge.

He was surprised, too; there were only a handful of people that Draco knew of who could see a basic spell and sketch it, and Draco hadn't been aware that Granger was one of them. It appeared as though his ability was still superior to hers, however; her sketch indicated so.

He continued reading. A whole lot more nonsense about discretion and compensation followed, and then Granger’s neat signature along with her new title (Chief Witch, Order of Merlin First Class) and position (Head of Experimental Magic). Draco’s brows shot up; impressive at her age to have her own (new) department at the Ministry, he thought and huffed.

He scanned the entire letter again, but there was no code evident that would reveal a hidden message which would give more detail. Granger was apparently stuck on a research project and now needed his help to advance. The thought was surprising, but infinitely pleasing. This along with the challenge an intricate spell like this would pose was enough to make Draco seriously consider accepting the task. He finished his wine and then reached for the bottle to fill his glass again; he was getting positively tipsy just as he’d planned, Ministry letter or not.

In addition to everything else, Draco had wanted to visit London for a while to re-acquaint himself with the streets and the people if only for a few short weeks. He hummed and took another sip. The owl cooed at him curiously and Draco scrunched up his nose a little, nodding at the bird.

“Hold on,” he said and dug for a quill and a scroll of parchment in the table next to his chair.

Granger,

Never one to turn down a plea of help from a fellow researcher stuck in a dilemma and seeing as I am the expert in any and all kinds of spell-breaking not only have you approached the right wizard with this problem, I find myself more than up to the challenge and assure you that with my help finding a solution for your problem will only be a matter of (very limited) time.

I shall be taking a Port to London some time tomorrow; I do ask for you to arrange all the formalities.

D.M.

 

He read it over again and then decided that it was as good or as bad as anything he could have written in reply. He sealed the scroll with his wand and handed it to the owl who took off with a soft whoosh of feathers.

He’d have to take some time off, he thought lazily, emptying his glass. He’d have to talk to Eleanore, the head nurse, in the morning. He’d have to make sure that all wards were set and that the nurses knew what to do with the children. He yawned, feeling heavy and tired, and leaned back in his chair, eyes not quite closing. Suddenly, the undertaking of going to London for a week or two seemed almost too much trouble. But he’d sent the letter, his grumbling mind told him, and there was no way to sneak out of this.

He pulled himself out of his chair and grabbed his wand from the table. He was beyond tipsy and found himself casting an alarm bell spell two times before it actually worked.

***

The Port to London was a lot more terrible that he’d remembered and even more so after an entire bottle of heavy wine the night before. His head hurt and his stomach felt as though it’d been turned inside out. He had had a vial of a very potent hangover potion, which had worked just wonderfully until the Portkey had dragged him all the way to London.

He swayed for a moment, still feeling dislocated, until he found proper footing again. There was a ginger haired witch waiting patiently for him to arrive.

“Mr. Malfoy,” she said and tilted her head, giving him a friendly smile. “Welcome to London. Did you have a good Port?”

“Not necessarily,” Draco said. English felt quite odd on his tongue - it had been too long. He dug into the pockets of his travel robes and handed her the documents Granger’s assistant had Floo’d over in the morning.

“Thank you,” the witch said, not sounding quite as pleasant anymore. “Sign here please?” She held out a form on which Draco carefully set his signature. The witch flicked her wand and a moment later Draco’s luggage arrived next to him with another soft ‘pop’.

“Your luggage will be taken care of,” the witch continued, “please reconfirm your address to us?”

Draco checked the form again, not having done so before, and then nodded. “Leave it with the concierge,” he said and the witch nodded briskly, walking off with his luggage floating after her.

He sighed and, walking towards the exit, looked up. It had been rather sunny in Le Lavandou and now the glassy roof of the public Portkey station in London showed a bleary, cloudy sky. It would be, he guessed, only a matter of minutes until it started raining and he was correct. As soon as he set foot outside the station, his shoulder was hit first by one, then two, then five, then twelve drops of water. He cast Impervius on himself and made his way down Diagon Alley, which was bustling with witches and wizards even in the pouring rain.

Draco had spent endless nights agonizing over how returning to England would feel; his thoughts had morphed from childish revenge and reunion fantasies, to only slightly more mature versions of the latter, and then at some point had vanished altogether. It didn’t feel anything like he’d thought it would - it felt nothing but odd.

He glanced up at the tall clock above one of the shops nearby; he was supposed to meet Granger at the Ministry at five, so he was stranded with nothing to do for a while. He considered, for a moment, simply going back to his flat in downtown London, but then belatedly realized that without being able to Apparate it would be a waste of time, going back and forth.

He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his robes, not used to the their heavy feel anymore, and continued wandering down the Alley; he had - he was certain - left things in order back at home. Potion supplies for two weeks, instructions for the staff. Despite his terrible hangover his preparations for this trip had been immaculate. It was almost frustrating to notice that he’d forgotten to bring a book to pass the time despite all his precision.

Just then, he passed an antique bookshop and, considering, entered it. It was quaint, lovely almost, all bright furniture and high, endless shelves along the walls and decorated with little flowers, mirrors and pictures of birds and greenery. The store was bigger on the inside than it had appeared from the outside and Draco started walking towards the back, trailing long fingers over rows of rough old book covers. There were quite a few titles that Draco thought would make a fine addition to his collection at home and when he reached what appeared to be a first edition of La Magia del Oriente (Eurydice Arguello, ca. 1751) he stopped to carefully pull the book from the shelf.

It was perfectly preserved and it was a first edition; opening the cover he found that it was even signed. Priceless.

“This one,” said a voice behind him, “will be worth every single Knut.”

Draco steeled himself for tough negotiations and turned with a calculating smile, ready to bargain. He found himself faced with a broad chest and a grin that he knew all too well, a shock of dark hair that Draco knew hid a familiar scar and bright green eyes behind glasses, and suddenly had not really anything to say anymore about the book.

He pursed his lips, blinking. “Potter,” he said surprised.

“Malfoy,” Potter said and slightly inclined his head, still smiling, which disgruntled Draco even more. “Didn’t know you were a collector.” He gestured towards the book, and Draco thought that considering Potter barely knew anything about him at all it was a ridiculous thing to say. “It’s genuine,” Potter continued. “At least, that’s what Luna told me to say about every piece here.” He grinned more and Draco shook his head a littlet.

“Luna as in Luna Lovegood?” He was very well aware of the break in etiquette, the missing hello’s and how-are-you’s but meeting Potter in a bookshop within the first thirty minutes back in London was the last thing he’d expected.

“Yes,” Potter said and tilted his chin in the general direction of, well, of everything in the shop. “She owns this place. But she’s on lunch break so she asked me to take over for a bit.”

Draco frowned, confused. “You work here?” The last time he’d seen Potter in person had been at a funeral, at the end of their last year at Hogwarts, with a war brewing, the determination to become an Auror written all over him. Not that he’d ever told Draco so in person; they had never exactly been on heart-to-heart talking terms.

Potter shook his head. “Oh, no. I was visiting. Why’re you here anyway?” He shifted onto his heels for a moment, stance widening and pushed his hands into the pockets of the faded jeans he wore under his black robes. The lining was, Draco noticed, Gryffindor red. Typical, he thought. A tad too late he realized he’d been staring at Potter’s crotch and jerked his eyes back up, shrugging, almost coloring in the face.

“Granger sent me an owl, she needs help with a research project,” he said, still dumbfounded at this strange encounter, and shrugged again. He hated to admit it but Potter, who had already been taller by the end of their last year in Hogwarts, but lanky and thin and looking as though none of his body parts were meant to fit together at all, had filled out rather nicely. His face had lost its boyish touch and grown harder around the edges, his shoulders wide and war-worn.

“Ah, yes,” Potter said, nodding slowly. “She did mention something like that.” He set to say something else, but just then the bell of the door sounded again and Luna Lovegood came wandering in, absently chewing on a rather big sandwich. She did not notice Draco, or Potter for that matter, at all and Draco thought that she looked even more absent minded than she’d had when they’d been at school.

She made it almost halfway through the shop before stopping and turning; she finished her sandwich in a bite and then waved at them. “Oh, hello, Harry,” she said, “and hello, Malfoy.”

Draco tilted his head a little. “Hello, Lovegood,” he said and gave her a nod. “This is quite the place you have here.”

“Thank you, Malfoy,” she said with a smile. “Are you here to buy something?” She added, apparently not one for pre-business chitchat.

“Actually, yes,” Draco said and strode over to her, handing her the book. “This. Your shop assistant here-” He glanced back at Potter. “-was nice enough to assure me of its authenticity.”

Luna gave a little laugh. “Shop assistant? That’s funny, Malfoy.” She leaned back a little and first considered him and then the book. Then her mood seemed to change as she nodded decidedly. “One thousand five hundred,” she said.

Behind Draco, Potter whistled and came up next to him, obviously to take a closer look at the book worth enough gold to feed a little family for half a year.

“Seriously? I’ll give you nine hundred. I have pamphlets at home that are worth more.” Draco said even though he knew that Luna had not only named a fair price, but could’ve asked for more - this was a mint first edition after all.

Apparently, she knew as well. “Take it or leave it,” she said with a smile that told Draco that Luna’s prices were not negotiable. Damn, he wanted the book.

Draco scrunched up his nose and nervously glanced up at the large clock behind the counter, heaved a sigh, growing impatient with himself. “Fine. But I expect discounts in the future. Have it delivered to my house.” He had to run, his meeting with Granger was less than fifteen minutes away and he still had to find a fireplace to Floo from.

“Naturally,” Luna said, still smiling pleasantly. They shook hands, quickly exchanged their coordinates, and then Draco was already rushing outside, feeling a little more stressed than he was comfortable with. Strangely enough, Potter was following him.

“What?” he said, turning on his heels once they’d left the shop.

“You’ve become soft,” Potter said with unaccounted for familiarity. “She might’ve budged with a little more prodding.”

Draco scoffed at him, scanning the surroundings; he’d probably get unlucky and find a fireplace right when the Ministry started closing, getting into all the afternoon rush of wizards and witches going home for the day.

“You shouldn’t Floo,” Potter said as if he’d read his thoughts. “You need to go to the Ministry, right?”

“Yes?” Draco said and raised a brow at him; he was mystified by what Potter wanted. There did not appear to be a good reason and this alone made him endlessly uneasy. “I don’t really have another choice,” he added after a moment. “I can’t Apparate. No English license.”

“We can side-along,” Potter said without missing a beat and Draco narrowed his eyes at him. Something was going on, and the more Potter tried to act nonchalant the more Draco’s suspicions grew. None of this, however, changed the fact that he was a breath away from missing his appointment.

“Alright,” he said and stepped closer to Potter, who reached out and touched his shoulder. “Don’t-” Draco started and then got pulled into the spell and finished when he found himself in the main hall of the Ministry, head spinning, feeling his hangover show its ugly head again, “-Splinch us. A warning would have been nice, Potter.” He steadied himself against Potter’s arm, breathing deeply. “And how can you Apparate directly into the Ministry? What happened to the wards?” There had not been one point in the history of the Ministry that the anti-Apparating wards had been lifted; it was so stable and firm that it had been one of the first that Draco had started studying when his talent had started showing, knowing that it wouldn’t change and that he’d able to come back and look at it some more whenever he felt like it.

Potter looked down at him and gave him a lopsided smirk. “Special clearance. Comes with being an Auror and all.” He still had his hand on Draco’s shoulder and gently started steering him towards one of the many lifts.

Draco following without thinking for a few moments, head pounding again, headache back in full after the Apparition, but then as Potter stepped into the lift with him realization slowly began to dawn from the haze.

“So,” he started, “you’re a supervising Auror with the license to Apparate inside Ministry buildings and you just happened to know that I have an appointment with Granger.”

Ding, the lift signaled and Potter gave him a look, watching a witch enter. She settled between them and Potter let go of Draco’s arm. Draco grit his teeth and fastened his eyes on the doors, waiting. She got out at the next stop and as soon as the doors closed, Potter made an unintelligible sound.

“Yes,” he said after a moment, which made Draco wonder through the rising feeling of indignation how he’d ever managed to become an Auror.

He told Potter so. “I’m surprised you managed to get through the stealth portion of your training, Potter.” He stopped for a moment, insides almost boiling. “I ought to Port back to France this instant,” he continued. “Were you following me?”

Potter’s face had lost its easy expression and he’d instead put on a small frown. Having been exposed, he obviously felt no need for courtesy anymore. “Consider me your welcome committee, Malfoy,” he said briskly, all the smoothness and charm from before gone from his voice. “No harm done, eh?”

Except it was; Draco turned away, staring at the moving numbers of the lift. They were going down still, further into the belly of the Ministry. “I should have expected as much,” Draco finally said. “You people never change.”

Potter gave him a stony stare and when the lift finally stopped and the doors opened, put his hand against the small of Draco’s back and all but pushed him out into a long, dark and winding corridor; Draco tried to fight the rising feeling of panic, heart rate picking up. He felt like a prisoner all of a sudden, trapped and unwanted. Potter walked on ahead, shoulders squared, and Draco hurried to keep up, quite seriously considering flight for a moment or two. He felt humiliated and exposed for something that he hadn’t done and hadn’t even considered doing.

He set his lips in a tight line, blindly following. The walls of the corridor were lined with all kinds of doors, tall and thin, tiny and round, square and oblong. The air was filled with residue magic of all kinds, a dark background noise in Draco’s ears, a hum running along his sinews. There was something deep down here, he thought. Something deep and intricate that vibrated through the corridors and walls like a beating heart. It made his inside squirm and made him forget how angry he’d been with Potter just moments ago; whatever Granger was doing down here, Draco wanted to dive in and wallow in the absurd intensity of the sorcery.

They reached the end of the corridor then and Potter raised his hand, lips forming silent words; a door appeared and slid open, revealing a much brighter and more welcoming part of this floor. Potter stepped aside, waiting for Draco to enter, and Draco did so, overcome with curiosity. Beyond the door, the hum of magic was far dimmer and Draco felt his head clear; he’d always been susceptible to the feel of magic, body and mind too open.

Potter ushered him on, past cubicles and tall windows, charmed to show a view of the Hogwarts Lake on a bright summer’s day; some of the faces peering over booth walls were familiar, some were not, but almost all of them gave him the kind of look that made him want to turn on his heels and desert England all over again. The yellow-white tiled floor beneath his heels played staccato as he sped up.

“I suppose,” he said through his teeth, catching up with Potter, “I should thank you for the grand entrance. I don’t suppose that we could’ve taken the back entrance to avoid such an unnecessary spectacle?”

Potter glanced down at him, green eyes hard and almost cold. His failure to be impressed by Draco’s complaints only fueled Draco’s anger further. Draco clenched his hands into fists at his sides and kept his gaze straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with any of the personnel.

Far too late Potter finally said, “That was the back entrance. But considering you almost fainted from the magical pressure, you probably weren’t seeing much.” He put his hand on Draco’s arm again, pushing him on as if he’d slowed down or stopped.

Draco pursed his lips, feeling his face color with anger, the heat rising up over his ears and nose and cheeks and chin. He’d almost forgotten how far Potter’s ability to find just that one thing that would rile Draco up extended. He’d almost forgotten how much he hated that git.

“Fuck you,” he sneered under his breath, lacking anything else more intelligent to say. It felt like defeat which made him feel even more vexed.

“Nice,” Potter retorted and his tone alone suggested such arrogance and superiority, that Potter’s squeezing hand on Draco’s arm would not have been necessary at all to show how appreciated his offer for help was.

He wrenched himself free and for a moment considered drawing his wand; it would not have been a smart thing to do in an office full of Aurors; it would not have been a smart thing to do with Potter alone, either, he conceded, and tossed the thought aside.

Potter opened the door at the end of the room in an act of fake courtesy, almost bowing as he waved him on. Draco wanted to kick his stupid face in with the silver tipped toe of his boot. He restrained himself and brushed past Potter into a wide hallway, populated with little groups of witches and wizards going over files, doors opening and closing into spacious office. At the end of the hallway a big double-winged door awaited and Draco strode towards it, certain he’d find Granger sitting behind the elaborate carvings in cherry wood.

He noticed with a smirk that Potter had been taken by surprise and had trouble catching up before Draco curled his hands over one bronze handle and pushed the door open and stepped inside. He let it fall shut and did not have to glance back to know that Potter had to catch it an inch before his face.

Granger was sitting at a large desk, carved from the same wood as the door, signing papers, leafing through books. She was immersed in her work and when Draco cleared his throat, she looked up surprised.

Her face had lost most of its childish softness, giving space for refined features, allowing for a more adult look, her hair pulled back tightly into a sophisticated bun. She tilted her head at him and blinked.

“Malfoy,” she said slowly and her gaze flicked past him at Potter.

“Sorry,” Potter said sheepishly and stepped forward. “He kind of went off on his own.” He pushed his long fingers into his messy hair and rubbed, leaving it even more disturbed; but it felt like a deliberate gesture, as though Potter very well knew now what effect his clumsy, self-conscious charm had on people. Draco sneered and ignored him.

“Granger,” he said and sat down in one of the large, purple armchairs in front of her desk.

She gave him another one of her curious smiles. “I am glad we were all able to re-establish that we all know each other’s names.” She sighed, waiting. Potter stepped past Draco’s chair and settled against the side of the desk with his hip, arms crossed, staring at Draco darkly.

“I would appreciate,” Draco said without looking at Potter, keeping his eyes fixed on Granger, “if your personnel refrained from treating me like a prisoner. It makes me wonder whether or not you really are in need of assistance concerning that little spell of yours.”

Granger’s smile remained unwavering. “I assure you we are nothing but concerned about making you feel as comfortable as possible, but you ought to consider that the Ministry is bound to employ caution in their dealings with outsiders. Harry volunteered to help despite being a Senior Auror because he thought seeing a familiar face would make your arrival easier.”

Draco tilted his head a little, eyes flicking up to look at Potter; it stung a little to know how far Potter had made it already, and in addition Draco could very well hear the concealed message of what Granger was saying. It made him angry all over again. “The Ministry should decide whether or not it’s appropriate to invite people to joint research projects only to have them treated as if under suspicion of murder.”

The silence that followed was almost tangible. Granger met his gaze steadily and then finally seemed to concede; her expression softened and she heaved a heavy sigh, then nodded at Potter.

“It’s alright, Harry,” she said and reached out to touch his arm.

“You sure?” Potter’s concern was genuine, his eyes soft and worried. It made Draco challenge the exact nature of their relationship. She’d always been so cozy with Weasley at the end of school, and while Draco was not particularly one to be interested in the lives of people who did not concern him, the sudden influx of facts made him wonder.

He stares at them for a moment, clearing his throat, and watched Potter leave and close the door behind himself.

“Now that this is dealt with,” he said, “can we get started already?”

Granger stared back at him, considering, holding his gaze steadily; the look on her face suggested that this was not only far more serious than Draco had imagined but also anything but a mere research project. She pulled out a large file from under a book and started filling him in.

***

Longbottom was in a critical condition; yet, from the door to his sickroom it looked as though he was merely sleeping and for a moment Draco was tempted to shake his shoulder until he woke. As he stepped closer, though, the intricate trails of a spell wound tightly around the entirety of his arms and reaching up over some of his body became apparent.

It was almost like a net; woven in complicated, self-repeating patterns that strongly reminded Draco of the sketch Granger had Owled him only two days ago. This went deeper though; not only could he see details Granger had clearly not been able to see, it just seemed like a more ambitious version of the same spell, an evolution of it. It must have, Draco noticed as he circled around Longbottom’s bed carefully, originated at his hands where the clusters of magic were so tight Draco had trouble peering through them.

“Bloody-” he started, then stopped, shaking his head, looking up at Granger. She’d told him that Longbottom had been the first to touch an artifact and had then toppled over and remained this way despite various efforts to wake him, magical or not.

But there must have been more to it; this was more than a simple protective spell, this was more than breaching a ward could have caused. He conjured a piece of parchment and a quill with a flick of his wand and started drawing the spell where it began curling over Longbottom's fingers. It was not an easy task and he barely heard it when the people behind him started whispering.

"He can really see all of it?" Potter's voice said, astonished. Draco tapped his quill against the parchment, pleased with himself, then turned his head a little to glance at Potter who was leaning towards Granger as she whispered an answer loudly enough for Draco to hear.

He finished his sketch and rolled the parchment up, carefully pushing it into the pocket of his robes.

“Well?” Granger said, tilting her chin at him as if she was challenging him to cure Longbottom then and there.

Draco took a step back, taking in the winding lines of the spell once more. “It originated at his hands,” he said, and her gaze told him that she knew as much, “and from what I can tell at first glance it’s far beyond a warding spell. It has some kind of an odd self-repetitive pattern in it, but I don’t know what it is. I’ll have to look at the source.”

“No,” Granger said decidedly, “you will work here with Neville and that’s all.”

Draco was surprised by the forcefulness in her voice and glanced at Potter to see how he felt about this, but Potter’s face remained unmoved and neutral.

Draco pursed his lips and stuffed his hands into his pockets, staring at Longbottom’s sleeping form; he was not entirely certain that he would be able to do it. The children they brought in to Le Lavandou, he knew how to treat them and unwind the curses wound around their throats and arms and hearts because he knew where they came from and knew how they had been woven or by whom. The few unusual ones Draco had encountered in his time there, he’d been able to pick apart with perseverance and dedication and a lot of reading. He felt his mouth set in a tight line, drawn between insisting on seeing the source and trying to work with what he had.

“I can’t promise anything,” he said, “and it might take longer than you anticipated, Granger.”

“Very well,” she said and pushed herself off the wall. Suddenly, she looked awfully tired. Dark circles under her eyes and complexion pale. “So, you accept?”

“Yes,” Draco said, “I accept.”

There was a long silence, as though Draco had just taken a vow or done or said something ceremonious; it was uncomfortable and Draco didn’t know what to say.

Potter broke the silence, clearing his throat and stepping forward. “Well,” he said, “I’ll Apparate you home, I guess.”

“You’re not going to lift the ban?” Draco said, disappointed and dumbstruck.

Granger gave him a look and Draco decided not to press the issue. He reached out and touched Potter’s arm instead, suddenly feeling as tired as Granger looked.

***

Potter had Apparated him to the corner of Draco’s flat building and then Disapparated again without as much as a goodbye; Draco was greeted by the always over-friendly concierge who informed him that his luggage had been taken care of and that he should find everything in order.

Draco grunted at him and dragged himself into the lift, going up eight stories to his flat, feeling as though he needed to sleep for an entire day before he’d be himself again. The wards were laid as thickly as they had been when he’d left five years ago and it took him a good minute to disable all of them, but was pleasantly surprised that his flat was clean and that everything had been taken care of to prepare for his return.

There was mail, too, apparently delivered to the concierge and placed on the doormat. Draco Accio’d it inside as he entered, too lazy to pick it up and flopped down on the sofa in front of the fireplace, conjuring a bottle of Shiraz and a glass. He poured himself a very generous amount and started leafing through the mail; there was some from distant relatives who still didn’t know he’d moved, which he discarded unread, a letter from Pansy which he would read immediately and one from Blaise which he set aside.

Pansy’s writing was as clear and well-set as ever. Draco only now realized how much he actually missed her.


Draco,

when were you going to tell me that you have come back to London? I miss you terribly. I hope the French sun has at least put some freckles on your face for all the times you failed to answer my letters.

I don’t know when I last updated you, but the wedding preparations are going smoothly. Who knew the Irish were so good at throwing parties?

Do meet me at Albrich’s tomorrow for lunch, yes?

Pansy

 

He shrugged off his robes and then dug for quill and parchment, quickly jotting down a reply to her; he’d owl it tomorrow. Laziness and alcohol was starting to creep up his legs and joints and arms, making him feel heavy.

He toed off his boots, tossing them into a corner, and tugged off his vest and shirt. He hadn’t been dressed in traditional wizarding attire for so long, the act of undressing all these unnecessary layers of cloth was so bothersome, he wondered why he had ever put up with it. An incantation undid his trousers and soon he was back on the sofa in a pair of soft linen trousers and a loose jumper.

On the table, Blaise’s letter was still waiting to be read. Draco gave it a prod with his naked toe and then sighed, pouring himself some more wine. He’d leave it, he thought, until tomorrow when he was more apt at dealing with all this.

What he needed right now was to finish another glass of wine and then find safety in the clean, fresh covers of his bed.

***

He made little progress studying the sketch of the spell the following morning. It wasn’t the sketch itself that posed troubling - he didn’t really need it as he had the spell almost memorized - it was the curse itself. Draco would find himself getting lost in its intricate tangles over and over, not seeing head or tails of it.

He found himself actually thankful for the stroll he had to take to Diagon Alley, not able to Apparate and not wanting to Floo in fear of getting charcoal on his cashmere sweater. It helped him clear his head a little and the spring air was fresh and cold, so very different from the already festering warmth down south.

Pansy was already waiting with two tall cosmos and a plate of chips and fish large enough for them to share. Draco couldn’t help grinning when he walked closer, waving a little.

“Hello, Parkinson,” he said, “you look splendid.” She did: Dark hair in elaborate curls falling effortlessly around her doll-face; she was dressed in strikingly golden robes that revealed just enough cleavage to make some of the passing wizards lose sight of their paths for a moment or two. “I see you’re dressed in your new house-colors?” He grinned at her and sat down.

“Oh, shut up,” she said with a smile, “I see that the French weather is doing nothing for your complexion. You have freckles, as I suspected.”

Draco pulled a unhappy face. “They’re temporary. I just haven’t been to the salon lately.”

They raised their over-sized glasses and clinked them together, almost giggling at each other. They reminisced in childhood memories for a while, sharing their plate of fried food and sipping their drinks; Pansy seemed to grow more and more impatient until she could apparently not stand their small talk anymore.

“Tell me already,” she questioned with a little smile, “what’s going on in the Ministry that they need your help?”

Draco shrugged and drowned his answer of “I can’t tell you” in his drink, finishing it in one big sip.

“Come on,” Pansy whined.

“No, really,” Draco said. “I swore an oath and all that.” He sighed a little, remembering. “But what I can tell you is that Potter is still the greatest git in Britain, if not Europe.”

She tilted her head at him, questioning, and Draco continued. “Well, first of all he spied on me upon my arrival and then tricked me into letting him take me to the Ministry where he proceeded to present me to his fellow Aurors as though I was a criminal on the run he’d just caught red-handed.”

Pansy frowned. “That sounds horrible,” she said, and then clearly hesitated.

“What?” Draco said and stuffed the last bit of fried fish into his mouth, frowning at her.

“Well,” Pansy said, “I just thought he changed, that’s all. Seamus and he still hang out quite a bit and I’m surprised. He’s not usually such a prick.”

Draco felt his brows skyrocket. Pansy defending a Gryffindor and of all people, Potter? He huffed an annoyed breath and slid farther down into his seat, arms crossed, feeling annoyed.

“Well, he was a complete arsehole to me anyways,” he spit out and waved the waiter over for a refill on their drinks. Pansy opened her mouth to say more on the subject but Draco silenced her with a glare. He was done with the topic for now and she had better respect that.

“Tell me about your wedding,” he said and prodded her thigh with his shoe.

“Three weeks,” she grinned. “We found a beautiful chapel in the Glendalough valley. It’s gorgeous. Small circle, just my friends and his friends and his family. Which probably means three-hundred Finnigans, you know the Irish. I’m so glad you’re here. It means you don’t have to make up an excuse for not coming to England.”

Draco answered her smile and shook his head. “You know I would have come either way. I still can’t believe this is happening. Who would’ve thought that you’d be marrying a Gryffindor?”

“Hmph,” Pansy said in faux-indignation, “he is a war hero.”

Draco hummed. “So they say.” He took another sip, feeling pleasantly buzzed. “I know other people who are war heroes, though, and I still would not marry them,” he mocked good-naturedly.

Pansy graciously ignored him. “I want dessert,” she said. She ordered a sundae and let Draco have a few spoonfuls. They were halfway through the pistachio ice-cream when an owl came fluttering to their table.

Draco looked up, wondering for a moment how they’d found him and then cursed when he remembered that he’d told the concierge where he was going.

“Work?” Pansy asked and Draco sighed and nodded. He took the little folded piece of parchment from the owl’s claws, rewarded it with a cherry, and then unfolded it, careful not to let Pansy read.

It did not say much, though.

Malfoy, let me know of your progress ASAP. H.G..

Draco sighed and let his spoon fall against his plate with a clacking sound.

***

His reply to Granger later that day was frighteningly short. He encrypted the seal with a code that he was sure Granger would break in no time and got up to push it into the little magical lift before his window waiting for mail to tow up to the Owlery.

Blaise’s letter was still sitting on his living room table, unread, and Draco stopped mid-step on his way into the open kitchen, considering reading it. He changed his mind halfway through and turned and grabbed a pie from the counter, munching on it as he sat down on one of the bar stools.

The sketch of the spell was taped to the fridge with spello-tape and Draco stared at it, munching his pastry. It still seemed more familiar than it should’ve been even after a day of intense studying. There was something that Draco could just not pinpoint, and the more he concentrated on it, the more his head started stinging. Maybe he’d had too much to drink.

He decided to go to St. Mungo’s after his snack, but opted for the longer Muggle route rather than to Floo and it was a wise decision, too. His headache subsided on the way, and he had a little time to catch up with Muggle politics, idly leafing through a newspaper while on the metro.

It was still sunny and quite pleasant when Draco reached his destination and he was in no hurry when he walked from the station to the hospital, humming softly under his breath. The witch at the reception barely looked up when he flashed the temporary Ministry I.D. Granger had given him and Draco strolled past her and into one of the gold-framed lifts, taking him up to the fifth floor, where Longbottom’s room was located.

He’d take a look at the spell again, see if he’d missed anything, and maybe try untangling an uncomplicated part of it just to see how it would react. Then he’d report back to Granger and have dinner downtown. It was a good plan.

He pushed the door to Longbottom’s room open and then stopped dead in his tracks; Weasley was there, standing by the bed, and Finnigan and Thomas, all the Gryffindors Draco had never liked assembled in the smallest possible space. The expressions on their faces as they turned around when he entered told him that the feeling was mutual. He groaned inwardly and tried to keep his face straight. All of them, with the exception of Weasley, wore the tell-tale black robes so typical for Aurors on duty. Draco suddenly felt underdressed in his light grey trousers and dark grey sweater. Unwizardly and ordinary.

“Malfoy,” Weasley said and his back straightened from where he’d been bent over Longbottom’s bed showing his height; he looked a little rough, hair messy, broad hands and shoulders where he’d been lanky and thin before. He was sunkissed, a slight pinkish hue to his tan skin, and the large backpack in the corner of the room indicated that he’d only just returned from traveling. Draco fought back his curiosity and tilted his chin at him.

“Weasley, Thomas, Finnigan,” he said. He swallowed a little and moved farther into the room. The animosity between them made the air feel heavy, made it an almost tangible substance that fought its way into Draco’s lungs with great resistance.

“What are you doing here?” Thomas shot, dark eyes narrowing at Draco. He seemed to echo everyone else’s thoughts.

“I’m here to take a look at Longbottom,” Draco said slowly and deliberately, “and see if anything has changed about the spell.”

There was a stunned silence and finally Finnigan said, “You’re the expert Hermione called for help?”

Draco shrugged. “Correct.”

Weasley let out a dry laugh that sounded more like an insult to Draco. “So, first you run away like a sissy and leave people to die, but when it comes to money you suddenly want to help? Fuck you,” he spit out.

Draco pressed his lips together. “I did not run away, Weasley,” he grit out. “I was forced to flee and by the time it was safe to return again I had been in a coma for four months which lasted another three. I do not need to make up excuses or justify anything to you.”

“Yeah, and who do you have to blame for that? Yourself, you prick.” He pushed his hands into the pockets of his thick, green robes. “Do you know what they usually do with deserters? They give them the Kiss. Every single one of us wonders who you had to blow to stay in your cozy little wherever-the-fuck-you-are-now.”

Draco did not respond to that. From this point on anything he’d say to Weasley would include heavy curse words and a few Unforgivables, and it wouldn't be worth it. He thought about the children in Le Lavandou and wondered how he’d ever been so crazy to leave them alone for this; he should have expected no better.

“Come on, Ron,” Finnigan suddenly said very carefully. “It’s not that simple. I mean, it never is that simple.”

Draco blinked at him surprised, almost thankful. Despite Finnigan’s engagement to Pansy he had not expected defense from his department. The others seemed equally surprised, and Finnigan shrugged.

“It’s been so long, and he’s here to help.”

“Whatever,” Weasley scoffed and grabbed his backpack, and he and Thomas moved to leave the room, not bothering to close the door on their way out.

Draco stayed silent, shifting onto his heels uncomfortably. He was not used to people standing up for him, and owing Finnigan a favor was even less desirable.

“I didn’t say that because you’re Pansy’s friend,” Finnigan said, reading Draco thoughts apparently.

“I would hope not,” Draco said coolly, “because otherwise I would have to remind you that she deserves better than someone so spineless they would back down from their opinions.”

Finnigan shook his head and almost smiled. “You’re a piece of work, Malfoy,” he said. “It’s been what? Five years. Some of us actually changed, despite what you think.” He shrugged. “If you don’t want to be judged based on the past, I suggest doing the same.”

He didn’t wait for an answer and closed the door when he left, leaving Draco in the middle of the room, almost but not quite shaking. He let out a deep sigh and instinctively placed his hand over his right forearm, feeling it tingle.

***

He opened Blaise’s letter that night and found it was not as terrifyingly emotional or whingy as he’d feared it’d be. The lack of it made him sting a little, which surprised him, and his subsequent owl back to Blaise lead to a blazing green fire from which Blaise stepped, dusting off soot and ash.

Draco did not get up from his place on the couch to greet him, but leaned back, long legs crossed, looking up at him. Blaise was still tall and wildly handsome, dark hair and eyes, all long, lean muscles. He looked older, more experienced, and Draco quite appreciated that.

“You’ve hardly changed,” Blaise said and Draco felt his gaze go up and down his form, his stomach jolting a little with the onset of arousal; it’d been so long since anyone had looked at him that way. Surrounded by ailing children, nurses and wizards thrice his age left Draco rather lonely at night.

It must’ve shown on his face because Blaise dove down without hesitation, kneeling over him, one hand on the backrest of the couch, the other on Draco’s thigh making his breath hitch, hovering over him, expectant, lips slightly parted.

He’d planned for a little more verbal foreplay, a bottle of wine, a slow re-exploration of each other, but now all he wanted was Blaise’s mouth, fast and wet, and so he leaned up and kissed him, pulling him down a little, giving up control as quickly as he’d initiated the kiss. Blaise groaned against his lips and pushed his tongue inside Draco’s mouth, and yeah, Draco needed this. Not Blaise per se, but a warm body, the play of tight muscle under his hands, fingers tugging at his clothes, lips ghosting over his neck, insistent, unforgiving, familiar.

Draco moaned a little and let Blaise maneuver them, allowed him to push him back onto the couch, to settle between his thighs, to slide his hands under his jumper and over his chest, until his skin felt tingly and he wanted more and all of it.

***

He was woken by rapid knocking on his door and first decided to ignore it, blinking heavily at the empty space next to him. He reached over and dragged his hand over the sheets and the pillow; it was cool. Blaise must have left during the night, and Draco couldn’t decide whether to be grateful or disappointed. He rolled onto his back, feeling pleasantly sore, and closed his eyes for a moment. The rapping did not stop.

Finally, he swung out of bed, grabbing his briefs from the floor and pulling on a thick bathrobe, hurried through the living room and wrenched the door open.

“What?” he snapped and found himself facing Granger who looked as though somebody had died. “What?” he repeated, softer this time. Her gaze darted up to this hair, and Draco quickly reached up and smoothed it back, almost embarrassed.

“It happened again,” she simply said and Draco stepped aside and let her in. She took in the disheveled state of his couch, the clothes on the floor with a raised brow, but thankfully did not comment on it, and then sat at the counter without being invited. Draco summoned a cup of coffee and offered it to her because she looked as though she needed it more than he did.

“Who?” he finally asked carefully.

“One of the Aurors who was with him on the mission,” she said. “I don’t know if you know her. Lisa Turpin.”

Draco slowly shook his head. “No. What happened?” He sat down on the other stool, considering her pale face, wondering why she’d come in person.

“She just fell over in the middle of the breakroom this morning.” She took another sip of her coffee and put the cup down, but did not let go, small hands curling around it.

“That’s odd,” Draco said. It was. There was no reason for anyone else to be affected this late after the spell had been set off. “I need to see Longbottom and I need to see the other one, too.” There was something; something that he’d missed.

He pushed away from the counter, leaving Granger to her coffee, and got dressed quickly. They Apparated straight into St. Mungo’s and hurried to Longbottom’s room, where a second bed had been installed, holding the thin frame of a blonde witch.

Draco did not pay heed to the half a dozen witches and wizards staring at him, Potter and Weasley among them, crowded around the beds, but pushed through the bodies to take a closer look.

Turpin was very pale, but this was not what made him shoo everyone else away to call Granger to his side.

“Do you see?” he said, pointing at her arms and hands. “It’s starting there.”

“Yes? We know that,” she answered and tilted her head at him.

“Focus, Granger,” Draco snapped, heart racing. “If you focus you’ll see it. The spell looks young on her.” He looked up and at Longbottom’s form, where the spell seemed to have grown and was starting to wind itself up his torso.

“I- yeah,” she said, squinting. It seemed to take obvious effort for her to see what Draco saw without even trying.

“How long ago did the mission take place?”

“A little over a week,” Granger said. “We thought we could take care of the spell ourselves, then we called you.”

Draco pursed his lips, ignored the last part of her statement, thinking. “Try to be exact, Granger. How many days?”

“Uh, nine days? Ten maybe.”

“Think, Granger,” Draco insisted. He fixed his gaze on the new threads in the spell winding itself around Longbottom. It looked as though it was choking him.

“Alright.” She closed her eyes, obviously counting. “Eleven days, two hours.” Her eyes widened a little, and Draco nodded.

“One and a half weeks exactly,” he said, and now that he knew the number it seemed so obvious he wasn’t sure how he could’ve missed it in the first place. It was clearly written all over the spell.

“It’s rewriting itself,” he said and pointed at Longbottom. Granger turned towards him and nodded, face even paler than before.

“You were right,” she said. “Oh god.” Her voice was drowned in the outbreak of shocked whispers.

“Have Longbottom’s lungs checked,” Draco said and stepped around Turpin’s bed towards Longbottom’s. He could see it now, the pattern, and could see the threads that linked it all together. What he didn’t see was any way to untie it. It would just rewrite itself in a little more than eleven days and add more viciousness until Longbottom was dead.

He squeezed his eyes shut, breathing deeply, a sudden influx of hazy memories making him nauseous.

“I need to get out of here,” he managed, stumbling out of the room, dizzy and sick, leaning against the wall outside, hands shaking. He pushed up his right sleeve, looking at the pale, untouched flesh of his arm, heart racing, barely seeing from the adrenaline pumping through his veins.

“Malfoy?” It was Potter. “Are you alright?”

Draco let his head fall back against the wall, almost laughing. Just who he needed to see right now. “No,” he said. “Do I look alright?”

Potter stepped closer anyway, ducking down to look at his face. His eyes seemed bigger than they actually were behind his glasses and Draco felt his stomach lurch again.

“You’re pale,” Potter said and to Draco’s surprise there was real concern in his voice.

“I’m always pale,” he retorted and closed his eyes. He took a few deep breaths, starting to feel better. It was almost as though Potter’s presence was zeroing out whatever had affected Draco. He remembered, distantly, Dumbledore talking about Potter’s immense magical potential, remembering how ridiculous he’d found it, remembering how overrated he’d thought Potter was. Here now in the empty hallway, with nothing but Potter’s presence close by, he could feel it, the thrum of the engine inside Potter that kept driving his powers far beyond imagination.

“Saw a little too much?” Potter’s voice was low and Draco found himself nodding, feeling unusually compliant, body relaxing second after second, breathing and heartbeat slowing down. By the time he realized that Potter had cast a soothing charm on him - no wand, no incantation, such a show-off - it was too late.

“Don’t do that without my permission ever again,” he said calmly, straightening up a little. He still had to look up to meet Potter’s eyes.

Potter let out a little laugh that left Draco in a stunned silence. “I like you better when you’re all high on magic.”

He allowed Draco to step away from the wall and followed him back into the room where half a dozen pairs of eyes met his own with a mix of curiosity, hope and plain hostility. But they all did as Draco told them, they all started hurrying around, procuring magical instruments and potions and soon Draco felt in control of the situation and himself again.

***

As it turned out, it wasn’t only Longbottom’s lungs that were failing, but almost all his internal organs except for his heart and brain. They put him under a life support charm just in time, but Draco was almost certain that it would not last for very long. Not long after the crowd of Aurors had left St. Mungo’s, save Potter and Granger, the youngest Weasley arrived; she looked tired and worn, and obviously surprised to find Draco along with Potter and Granger in Longbottom’s room.

In her arms she carried flowers to replace the ones by Longbottom’s bed. Her step slowed as she came closer, head tilting.

“Hi?” she said and raised her eyebrows. She was still very ginger and very freckly, but looked less like a little girl now and more like a grown woman.

“Ah, Ginny,” Granger said. “Sorry, I forgot that it was your visiting time. We.” She stopped, eyes flicking to Turpin’s bed. “We had an incident, another one.”

Weasley nodded and exchanged the flowers, face almost motionless. It took Draco a moment to understand that it wasn’t because she didn’t care, but because she couldn’t. She was already busy enough worrying about Longbottom to pay attention to anyone else. She was so absorbed she barely even registered Draco’s presence.

He watched her for a while, doing mundane tasks that he knew were meant to keep your nerves at bay.

“We’ll fix him,” he heard himself say. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Weasley looked up at him, eyes wide and red with crying. She nodded slowly, hands shaking and Draco felt something inside himself stir, a deep empathy that made it hard for him to remain calm. Potter and Granger were staring at him, and Draco looked away, taking a deep breath.

“Ron told me that you’re here,” Weasley finally said but without scorn and sat down at the edge of the bed. Her hand curled around Longbottom’s wrist, gently holding.

“I called him here,” Granger said quickly, voice tight. “He’s here to help.”

“I know,” Weasley said absently, “I know what he does.”

“Huh.” Potter raised a brow at Draco as if to say that he didn’t. Draco wasn’t surprised at either statement. It was easy to find something about the hospital in Le Lavandou and its residing spellbreaker and Mageioptes - if you bothered looking for it.

“Let’s go,” Draco said and got up, gathering his notes and sketches. “Nothing we can do here anymore.”

Granger and he left, while Potter stayed behind, quietly talking to Weasley, and Draco almost made a comment about stealing the best friend’s wife from your mate’s death bed, but refrained, Granger’s stern face telling him that she was not in a mood for jokes or snide comments.

They spent the night breaking the spell up into tiny, manageable pieces, but Draco could not shake the feeling that there was something that she wasn’t telling him. He fell asleep over the desk and woke with a jerk feeling as though he hadn’t slept at all, back and legs cramping; Granger was curled up on one of the chairs in her office, hair down for the first time since he’d seen her, finally back to its curly, unruly state.

She must’ve felt his stare and slowly blinked herself awake, yawning. “You have ink on your face,” she said and Draco reached up and wiped his cheek, fingers coming back black.

“Darn it,” he said and leaned back. They had made no progress, none at all, and the notes on the table said even less to him now in his half-asleep state.

“I need breakfast.” He pushed himself up and stretched, his clothes wrinkled. He considered having her Apparate him home before eating, but decided that he was famished enough to skip cleanliness for now.

“Me too,” Granger said and Draco helped her up. They wandered down the hallway and to the lift - the front entrance one this time - that would take them six floors up to the general breakroom, both equally disgruntled and sleep deprived.

Draco yearned for a cup of coffee and got it just a few minutes later when they entered the half-deserted breakroom and found themselves some eggs and toast and coffee and an empty table. Granger was wolfing down her food while Draco sipped his coffee, rather amused.

“You eat like a starving woman, Granger,” he commented, shaking his head, and took a careful bite of his toast, half-smirking.

“Shut it,” Granger said, but it didn’t sound malicious at all. “And you can call me Hermione. That’s my name.”

Draco lifted a brow, lowering his cup a little, surprised. “And who says I’d like to?”

Granger looked up, offended. “We work together. I figured you’d possess that kind of courtesy.”

“Huh,” Draco said and thought about it. The concept seemed rather alien to him. “Hermione,” he said and let the name roll from his tongue.

“Better,” Granger said. Hermione. It was odd. “Draco.”

“This is strange,” Draco said quickly and had a sip of coffee.

Granger opened her mouth to reply but froze mid-breath, looking up. “Seamus!” she said.

“Hello,” Finnigan said grinning and sat down without asking. “You both look like shit!”

“Thank you,” Draco said and tapped his fingers against the surface of the table. “We both appreciate your sense of suaveness.” He shot Finnigan a look. “I will let you know that Hermione and I spent a rather restless night.” He was aware of the double entendre and found amusement in the way Granger’s eyes widened.

Finnigan laughed. “Really? Did you switch teams?”

Draco shook his head, unable to hold back a little grin as realization dawned on Granger. Finnigan stole Draco’s toast and Draco didn’t protest. He felt oddly comfortable suddenly. With the looming threat of this unknown spell and in a country full of people who despised him, it was not a feeling he’d have expected.

Finnigan and Granger were chatting idly and Draco watched them. Granger took a sip from her coffee and frowning, reheated it. In an instant of accidental Mageioptics Draco saw the spell sneaking its way out from her hand and over her fingers, focus through her wand and find her cup, curling around it.

He read it automatically, object, trigger, find origin, repeat, and suddenly it was as though he’d invented the wheel again. He dropped his toast and rose to his feet, unable to coherently form words and convey what he’d just realized.

“It’s-” he started and waved his hands, accidentally knocking his cup over. “It’s a loop,” he said. “It doesn’t rewrite itself, it just writes over itself again and again.” He laughed, almost euphoric. “I can freeze it if I put time-block in it.” He was babbling and Hermione and Finnigan were staring as though he was crazy. He might as well have been.

“The spell writes itself onto Longbottom, and then at the end of each cycle it adds the same layer, but possibly a little off. That’s why we thought it was rewriting – evolving – itself. But it does that without an additional trigger. It’s a loop in the spell itself.” He pushed his chair to the side. “I can’t stop it from being cast again, wherever it’s coming from, but I can block the loop in the spells on Longbottom and Turpin for now.”

That hit home. Hermione was on her feet in an instant, her hand on Draco’s arm. “I'll Apparate him to St. Mungo’s. Seamus, get Ginny.”

***

Afterwards Draco could barely remember how he’d done it. Turpin had been easier, far easier. He found the autoloop rather quickly, and blocking it took less than an hour. Longbottom however - when Draco was done he could barely see and was drenched in sweat, nauseous, dizzy. He figured it’d been the last chance to actually restrain the spell. Another layer and Draco would not have been able to get through it.

He slumped against the bed when he was done, shaking all over, heaving deep breaths to keep himself from vomiting; again the feeling of intense familiarity was undeniable, but Draco could not pinpoint what it was. His head was spinning. The Weasley girl was crying and asking if it was over, if Longbottom was safe, and Draco could not find the strength to lift his head and nod. He was utterly drained.

He could hear Granger’s - Hermione’s - voice explaining to her, softly and slowly, and then there were hands pulling him up gently.

“Give him the potion,” a voice said, and Draco protested feebly, but could not fight the hands pushing a vial to his lips and forcing a sharp liquid down his throat. Ah, he thought, draught of invigoration. Badly done and without finesse, but he felt better almost instantly, breathing deeply.

Weasley was in front of him, holding his wrist, counting and checking his watch at the same time.

“I’m fine,” Draco said, indignantly. “Check on Longbottom.”

They had already; several nurses and doctors were crowded around him, wielding magical instruments. His breathing was as even as the life support charms would allow, but Draco could see that he had been successful with his idea.

He was dead tired despite the potion, longing for a bed and a good night’s sleep. The people around him were bustling around, talking busily, Potter and Weasley now deep in conversation. Draco oddly felt like he’d been left out. He looked around, feeling almost helpless, and then dropped into an empty chair, head pounding and protesting.

He closed his eyes and then suddenly felt a presence - a hum of magic, deep and almost predatory. He opened his eyes again and found Potter squatting next to his chair, elbows on his knees, hands supporting his chin as he looked up at Draco. He looked curious, as though he’d only just met Draco for the first time.

“So, that’s what you do,” he said, not quite inquiring.

Draco inclined his head. “That’s what I do. Minus the grown-ups and the English weather.” He didn’t know why, but he wanted Potter to know these things, wanted him to know that he had a reason not to return, quite a few even. They were named Lizbeth, Angelique and Jacques and usually weren't much older than ten or eleven years.

Potter regarded him with a long, silent stare, considering him so intensely that Draco felt himself flush. “What?”

“Nothing.” Potter shook his head. “Nothing.” He got up, dusted invisible dirt off his knees and strode away, long legs, narrow hips, broad shoulders. Draco caught himself staring, embarrassed.

Finnigan Apparated him home a while later; Draco barely found the strength to thank him, stumbling inside his flat, too tired to even take his clothes off, the potion long metabolized, and fell asleep on his bed, face first, sprawled out.

***

He slept until noon the next day and was woken by the intense smell of coffee and breakfast sizzling. He rolled onto his back and then got up, padding into the kitchen, where Pansy was cooking, clad in expensive silk robes and a ridiculously pink apron.

“What are you doing?” Draco inquired, completely puzzled. He’d never seen Pansy touch a pan before. He’d never seen her actually touch any kitchen utensil, let alone put together an entire meal.

“I’m cooking you breakfast,” Pansy said without turning. “They said that you collapsed, so I hurried here.” She did turn then and took in his less-than-orderly appearance. He hadn’t showered or put on fresh clothes in two days.

“Did they lock you in a room without a shower?”

“No.” Draco sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, not feeling companionable. “I didn’t collapse. And do you not have anywhere you need to be? Driving a baker insane?”

“No,” Pansy said. “I told you. It’s all being taken care of.”

Draco hmphed and wanted to say something, but Pansy cut him off. “Go shower, Merlin, you reek, Draco.”

There was apparently very little he could say to change Pansy’s mind, and showering sounded like a rather good idea, so he did as he was told and wandered into the bathroom to wash off the grime and dirt and sweat of two days’ worth of work.

He returned in grey jeans and a green jumper, hair still wet, but much more awake and refreshed than he’d been in days. Pansy gave him a look and Draco narrowed his eyes at her in question.

“Do you only ever wear Muggle clothes anymore?” she said and shook her head.

Draco shrugged and sat at the counter accepting the cup of coffee she offered him. “I guess things are different in Le Lavandou.” He dug into his eggs and Pansy gingerly sat at the counter with him, watching him.

“Did you sleep with Blaise?” she asked calmly and Draco choked on his toast.

“What?” he blurted out.

“That’s a yes?” She tapped her red fingernails against the black marble of his kitchen counter.

“We’re both grown men,” Draco said. “It didn’t really mean anything.”

“To you,” Pansy said darkly.

“To us both,” Draco insisted. Then more quietly, “I was alone and this whole thing here is just driving me insane. He knows how I feel, Pansy. He still wanted this as much as I did.”

Pansy didn’t say any more. Draco knew she was aware that even a tiny admissions from him meant that he was nearing his limit of patience and did not wish to be pestered further.

“Seamus is having a bachelor party next weekend, on Friday,” she said after a moment of silence. “Well, he’s not, but his mates are. Thomas asked me to help arrange for a free evening and an opportunity. He promised they’d be good.” She frowned and moved her now intertwined hands to her mouth, staring at Draco. “What if he cheats on me, Draco? I’m sure they’ll have Muggle strippers and things like that.”

Draco shook his head. “He’s not that much of an idiot, Pansy. If he wanted to cheat on you he wouldn’t do it in public, dear.”

“You’re not helping,” she said. “You’re not helping at all.” She pursed her lips. “And do not turn all Gryffindor on me and say ‘There are people dying, Pansy!’ I know what’s going on because Seamus told me. But I need you too. You stopped it for now, didn’t you? Now I need you.”

He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “He loves you,” he finally said. “He even stood up for me because I’m your friend.” He gave Pansy a wry smile.

“Can’t you go with them and keep an eye on him?” She gave him a pleading look. “His mates are all Gryffindor idiots, they don’t really understand. And Potter’s there so there will be approximately three hundred willing girls.”

Draco groaned and dropped his forehead against the counter. He had other things to worry about than to make sure that his best friend’s fiancé stayed faithful. Dangerous spells and dying people. Research to do. “I’m not invited,” he said and then looked up. “Please, I’m not invited, they all hate me, they’re Aurors. They think I’m a traitor.”

“I’m asking nicely,” Pansy said and her tone was not nice.

“I’ll think about it,” he said carefully. He had a week to come up with an excuse good enough to prevent Pansy from hexing his head off. Or Finnigan’s.

***

He spent the entirety of the day holed up with Hermione in her library, reading book after book, Quick-Quoting important bits and pieces. His spell block on the trigger for the loop seemed sturdy enough when they checked back on Longbottom and Turpin on their (very late) lunch break, and the spell had not changed a bit.

He showed Hermione where he’d tied the knot in the spell, pointing. “See,” he said and took her hand, lending her a little of his sight.

“Ooh,” she made and nodded. “Impressive.”

They sat in the only two chairs in the room, eating their sandwiches. It felt odd to be sitting here to have lunch, but Draco would have felt as though he was not doing enough had he sat in the breakroom at the Ministry or gone home to have lunch. He needed to be here and Hermione’s face told him that she felt the same.

They stayed after they’d finished their lunch, discussing the little things of the spell they’d missed when it still had been moving. Frozen as it was now, it was far easier to observe even for Hermione.

They were in the middle of a heated discussion on the possibility of unfreezing it and catching it right as the loop would start again to trace it back and undo it entirely, when the door opened.

“I’m telling you,” Draco said vehemently, “it will loop too fast to even see. You’d undo all the progress we made so far. There needs to be an outside source that’s responsible.”

“Yes, but,” Hermione said and stopped, perking up when the door opened and closed. “Hi,” she said and Draco turned around, surprised to see Potter and Ron Weasley.

“Hey,” Potter said, smiling. “There you are. Ron was looking for you.”

Hermione had the decency to blush gingerly, high on her cheeks, and Draco thought, ah. They stared at each other, eyes darting back and forth, and Draco got up, nodding at Hermione, then at Weasley and moved to the door. After tugging on Potter’s sleeve with a subtle flick of his wand, he appeared to get the hint, too, hurrying outside after Draco.

“They haven’t seen each other in so long,” he said, carefully closing the door and rewarding Draco with a rare, genuine smile that made his entire face light up. “Ron was in New Zealand.”

Draco nodded, idly following Potter down the hallway. “That explains some things,” he found himself saying.

Potter gave him a surprised look, which made Draco snort. “What? Did you think I never noticed anything? I went to school with you for seven years. I fought on your side for a while.”

“Yeah,” Potter said. “I suppose that’s true.” It was an odd echo, a strange sound to his voice that made Draco look up at him. He wanted to tell him what had happened, why he hadn’t been able to return, but found himself doubting that Potter would understand or even care.

Instead he said, “I need warm food and a very large glass of Chardonnay.”

To his bafflement, Potter grinned at him and said, “I supposed that can be arranged.”

They ended up in the Ministry breakroom, surrounded by Potter’s friends and colleagues, but Potter had conjured Draco a reasonably fine glass of wine and the food from the buffet was not completely horrible.

There was Seamus, who was trying his best to include Draco in the conversation, Potter who sat next to him, grinning and eating and doing all kinds of horribly impressive wandless magic, Dean Thomas who told the most terrible jokes, Cho Chang who had chopped off her hair and wore it in a short, stern bob, Mcmillan whom Draco only remembered very faintly, and many other familiar and unfamiliar faces.

But in gross difference to his first day at the Ministry or even three days ago, none of them threw snide remarks at him or shot him murderous glances; they did not quite include him in their chatter and banter, but it was as though he’d become tolerable. His glass of wine helped loosen his mood a little and soon he found himself in deep conversation with Anthony Goldstein who he’d never paid much attention to when they were still in school and even less later on when the war had started.

By the time his glass was finished he was smiling and nodding as they reminisced with old stories from Hogwarts across the table. Just as Anthony had finished telling Draco about the time Trelawny had actually taken him seriously when he’d tried to convince her that he’d dreamed that he was going to turn into a gnome, a hand landed heavily on Draco’s shoulder. He jerked around, heart racing with the sudden touch, and found it was only Seamus, who held his hands up, looking a little guilty.

“Sorry,” he said, “didn’t mean to scare you, Malfoy. Just wanted to say thanks, you know. For Neville and for Lisa.” He shrugged and smiled, and for the first time Draco realized what Pansy saw in him. He managed to smile back and slightly nodded.

“It’s my job,” he said smoothly and shifted in his seat, unsure how to respond further. Seamus seemed to understand and continued to engage both him and Anthony in light conversation until kitchen staff started clearing out the buffet and the tables.

He Floo’d home for the first time since he’d come to England, tired and well-fed and went to bed to dream about winding red threads and hands on his body that he did not know, yet did not want to leave either.

***

Their research during the following days merely served to prove that Draco’s theory on unfreezing the spell had been spot on; they’d built a very crude model of the spell in a warded glass box in Hermione’s office with which they experimented, trying various methods to see if they could find a way to resolve it before it looped, but it was simply too fast.

Potter kept popping by now and then, sometimes when he was on break, other times when he was in a hurry; sometimes he brought food, other times he’d steal from Draco’s unfinished plate of snacks.

Sometime on Monday afternoon, as they were watching a new, improved version of the spell loop all over in the glass box on Hermione’s desk, Draco finally found the courage - and interest, he told himself - to ask.

“What does Potter do?” He glanced over at Hermione who was chewing chocolate frogs, eyes fixed intently on the spell which Draco knew she could only see if she concentrated very hard.

“He’s, uhm.” She wiped the corner of her mouth and turned her head, blinking rapidly as though she had stared into very bright light for too long. “He’s a liaison to my department. We deal with a lot of what was left behind by You-Know-Who and his followers, even now, and while the Aurors are all about fighting back and catching the bad guys, we try to do damage control. But it’s hard. The Aurors aren’t so fond of us telling them how to do their work, and vice versa.”

Draco nodded. “So, he tries to make both sides see that they need each other?”

“Essentially, yes,” Hermione said and passed the bowl of sweets to Draco and he stuffed two frogs into his mouth rather unceremoniously.

“He’s a very powerful wizard, Draco,” she continued. “We have things down here that only he can control.” She shuddered a little. “A part of him belongs here with us and another part is all Auror.” She shrugged smiling, and Draco understood. He’d felt it before, the dark power that lived here in the bowels of the Ministry and that Potter appeared to contain within himself wherever he went.

“Why didn’t he-” Draco waved his hand at the spell in the box.

“Break it?” Hermione hummed. “He’s powerful, but things like this require finesse. I’m sure he could break it if he wanted to, I’m pretty sure he knows he can, too. But you know how these things work. Even if Harry can simply break it, there’s no guarantee it won’t backfire and kill Neville, or others even. And considering how demonic this thing is, I’m certain that ripping it apart with pure force will put us all at risk.”

She was right. Draco was certain there was a failsafe; these things tended to work that way. He did not remember much of the days before his coma, but that - the failsafe - that he remembered. He swallowed and leaned back in his chair, eyes tired from staring at winding, bright lines all day.

“Do you think Seamus would ever cheat on Pansy?”

“What?” Hermione sounded surprised and a little put off. “No, what are you asking?”

“She told me that they’re arranging a bachelor party for him.”

“And you’re coming to me with this?” Hermione blinked at him, head tilted.

“Is that unprofessional?” Draco asked, feeling his voice tighten up a little.

“Rather,” Hermione said, and then after a long silence, “He would never. He’s completely enamored. He’s having his mother arrange green and silver table decorations, Merlin’s beard. It will look atrocious and his Muggle relatives won’t know what’s going on when all the Gryffindors start trying to charm things to look red and gold.”

Draco laughed, honestly and deeply amused, and Hermione chimed in after a moment. He felt lighter when they went silent again, grinning and shaking their heads. He’d been here for only a week and with each passing day the pressure had increased, weighing heavily on his shoulders. He knew the pressure and knew what it meant to be responsible for lives every day, but all those hexes and spells that afflicted the children at the hospital, they were manageable, and if Draco could not remove them right away, a little research and a few potions went a long way. This one was far beyond that and it scared him.

Potter came by only a few minutes later, a box of food in one hand, Butterbeer in the other. He didn’t knock as always and settled on the table next to the highly dangerous warded copy of the curse without batting an eye. Draco was certain that even though Potter could not see it, he must certainly have felt it.

“I never get any quiet in the breakroom,” Potter said, mouth full.

Draco scrunched up his nose. “Yes, Potter, enlighten us once more about how popular you are.”

“Very,” Potter said without missing a beat; he’d lost almost all the hostility from the first day, and when he offered Draco a pie, he found it quite hard to be offended by Potter’s overconfident tone.

“Are you getting somewhere?” Potter asked when they were all done eating and waved his hand at the contained spell, confirming Draco’s suspicion that he was very well aware of it and had just wanted to make a show of nonchalance.

“Not really,” Draco said at the same time as Hermione said, “Yes, quite!”

Potter raised a brow at them, an expression Draco had never really seen on him, and rubbed the palms of his hands over his thighs. “Well?”

“We’re finding more and more things that we can’t do,” Draco said. “But Hermione thinks that this counts as “getting somewhere” as you’d call it.”

“No good news I can carry upstairs?” He looked truly disappointed. Draco sighed and rolled his shoulders. He was starting to get another headache.

“I need fresh air,” he said and dragged himself up, waving Hermione a small goodbye.

Potter slid off the table, following him to the door and through it. “I can Apparate you outside if you want?”

Draco groaned and shook his head; the thought of another spell messing with his head made him feel almost sick. “No, I just need to walk,” he said.

Potter kept hovering and finally Draco conceded and allowed him to tag along, upstairs where real sunlight was streaming into the Ministry hallways.

“So,” Draco said after a while, seeing the opportunity and seizing it. “I hear there are plans for a bachelor party for Finnigan.”

“Yes,” Potter said slowly, waiting for Draco to continue.

“My friend Pansy, who is, as you are certainly aware, the lucky bride, has expressed mild concern about the fidelity of her soon-to-be during this event,” he said stiffly.

Potter huffed out a laugh. “You mean, she thinks he might cheat?”

“Yes,” Draco said, getting to the heart of the matter. “You’re one of his best mates, aren’t you? Can’t you keep an eye out and make sure all things are in order?” He rubbed his nose, looking up at Potter.

Potter did not start laughing at him nor did he say anything scornful. Instead, he grinned devilishly. “I plan on being drunk enough to do things out of order myself. But you are welcome to pop by and make sure that there’s no groping on Seamus’ part.”

“There will be bodies to grope?” Draco said before he could stop himself and pulled a face. He would not tell Pansy that, most certainly not.

“Of course,” Potter said. “Last week as a free man and all that.” He stopped then, still grinning. “No,” he said, “we’re going to a bar and there’ll be one very dressed girl dancing for ten minutes and then all of us are getting smashed. No strippers, nothing like that.”

Draco sighed a breath of relief, but quickly found his old drawl again. “That sounds plebeian,” he teased.

“I know,” Potter said, sounding rather pleased. “I mean it though. Come by for a pint.” He stopped, fixing his intense green stare on Draco. “We’re all just getting to know you. You might want to consider doing the same.”

Draco swallowed tightly, breath caught in his throat, Potter’s presence washing over him again for a moment. He wasn’t even aware of it, Draco thought, the roar of his focus. “Alright,” he said weakly, “I’ll think about it.”

***

The days began to intermingle, an almost endless drone of research, food, research, sleep, research. On Thursday - Draco was quite certain, but not entirely sure that it was Thursday - they realized that there was nothing more to find about the copy that they hadn’t gone over at least a dozen times before.

Draco was no closer to finding a solution or a starting point from where he could begin breaking it up than he’d been when he’d arrived here. He had however become entirely convinced that there was an outside trigger to the spell that was not included in the copies affecting Turpin and Longbottom.

Hermione evaded his question with the grace of someone who had been questioned too often and too effectively, and Draco found himself giving up. She either could not or would not tell him if she knew anything other than what she’d already told him.

“This is tiring,” he said when he was re-reading their notes. He looked up and drew his wand, disabling the spell-copy. “Unless I find the source or we find a way to slow down the loop, there’s nothing I can do.”

It was a basic admission of defeat, but Draco was frustrated. He got up and neatly folded his notes into his sketchbook. “Longbottom and Turpin are alright, still?”

Hermione had just returned from a short visit to St. Mungo’s. She nodded. “They are stable. No notable change. The doctor is asking for your recipe for that nutrition potion, though. She’s never had one quite so effective.”

Draco waved his hand. “Of course not. I added a few special - secret - ingredients.”

“Is it chocolate?” Hermione said.

“No,” he said harshly even though he knew that she was trying to cheer him up, and then rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. No. It’s ginger, hibiscus and a drop of nightingale tears.”

“Very interesting,” she said and there was a soft smile on her face that reminded Draco of Pansy in her more quiet moments. “We’ll find a way to fix this. We always do. Go home. Sleep. Eat properly.”

“Yes,” Draco, going for a mocking tone, but ended up sounding nothing but utterly obedient. He packed up his things and nodded a goodbye before finding a station to Floo from.

When he stepped out into his living room again, there was a letter waiting for him on the coffee table. He padded over and snatched it, flopping down on the couch, frowning.

Blaise was inquiring on his whereabouts. Blaise wanted to know if he intended to stay longer. Blaise wanted to take him out to dinner on a date and time of his preference.

He should’ve known, he thought darkly; there were no easy things to be had with Blaise, no quick comfort or uncomplicated body to warm the bed for a night or two. Draco did not, on top of all else, need a complicated affair. He did not need an affair at all. He wanted a willing body, and not much else.

He wrote Pansy a note, describing exactly what Potter had told him about the bachelor night, and added, after some thought, that he would probably follow up on that invitation if only just to annoy some of the attending Aurors.

He had some stew and bread and a glass of port wine for dinner, and went to bed not much later. Lying in the cool of his bedroom with an empty space next to him, Blaise’s offer suddenly did not seem so far fetched anymore, but Draco restrained himself, trying to think of the consequences.

***

Friday found Draco stumbling to the kitchen, messy hair, only in briefs, in dire need of coffee, when a sudden, rampant series of knocks on the door made him jump. He glared at the door from his spot by the counter where he’d just started pouring himself a cup and after the knocking did not stop on its own, set the can down with a sigh and went to answer the door.

It was Potter and Dean Thomas and Anthony Goldstein, all dressed more or less accurately (in Goldstein’s case) in Muggle clothes, waving green and red flags at him, horrible grins all over their faces.

“Merlin,” Draco said and closed the door in their faces, staring at the blank wood, dumbfounded and shocked. Finding a bunch of Aurors at his door was not something he wished to wake up to. He grabbed a silk robe from the bedroom and tried greeting them again, wrenching the door open.

They were grinning less enthusiastically now and there was decidedly less waving of tiny flags. Draco cleared his throat.

“Good morning,” he said, “how may I help you?”

“You have pink slippers,” Thomas said stupidly and Draco narrowed his eyes at him.

“Yes,” he said, “yes, I do.” He was growing exasperated. These people were not telling him what they wanted and not having had coffee yet, he was not a patient man.

“Relax,” Potter said with a small smile. “We’re here to pick you up. For the bachelor party. It’s almost three.”

“Oh,” Draco said and instinctively looked over his shoulder at the large antique clock over his fridge. Then he remembered. “Oh.”

Potter turned towards his friends. “I’ll stay behind and Apparate us there. You should go and make sure everything’s ready.”

They nodded and there were a lot of ‘cheers, mate’ and ‘see you soon’s' and then the lot of them vanished with a pop. Draco pursed his lips, looking at Potter darkly.

“Is that what you people do? Show up at people’s houses uninvited?” He had not been aware that he had become familiar enough with Potter to allow spontaneous visits. There were very few people that were allowed this privilege and Potter decidedly was not one of them.

Potter did not rise to the challenge and just shook his head, pushing past Draco into the flat. His hand brushed Draco’s hip as he walked by and Draco was stunned, skin buzzing with magic, the feeling spreading out over his body. He closed his eyes for a moment, inhaling, exhaling, then shut the door.

Potter poured himself a cup of coffee in Draco’s favorite cup. “That’s my cup,” Draco said and Potter tilted his head at him, then offered the cup of fresh coffee to Draco and took the one on the counter, smiling curiously without saying anything.

Draco stopped next to the island counter with his coffee, staying as far away from Potter as possible without looking ridiculous. The situation was too strange for his still sleep-befuddled mind to comprehend.

Potter sipped his coffee, gaze fixed on Draco’s face, before his eyes wandered down, taking in the entirety of Draco’s appearance, his fuzzy pink slippers, the soft fabric of his light green silk robes, that exposed part of his collarbone, his disheveled hair. Draco felt scrutinized and uncomfortable and he straightened his back a little, meeting Potter’s eyes when he was done. But there was something in them that spoke of something entirely different than critique; it was appreciation, and Draco felt his face color.

He put his cup down forcefully. “I’ll. I need to shower and get dressed before I agree to this.”

“Alright,” Potter said. His gaze hadn't changed a bit and Draco spun on his heels and fled to the bathroom. He showered, washed his hair, sneaked through the living room and kitchen in a thick bathrobe and set to the crucifying task of choosing clothes. He settled for a sand colored thin jumper and grey jeans.

Potter gave him another up-and-down when he returned, and Draco snapped, “What?”

“You’ve been looking so normal,” Potter said. “None of the pompous dress-robes you used to wear everywhere.”

“They’re bothersome,” Draco said and slipped into his shoes in the hallway. Potter followed him to the door and held out his hand, which Draco regarded with a raised brow. He would not hold hands with Potter, even to Apparate.

Instead he reached out and steadied himself on his arm, putting on his other shoe, and Potter put his hand on Draco’s shoulder. It felt familiar, something that he could get used to, the play of muscle under Potter’s dark red cardigan, his fingers on Draco’s shoulder, warm through the flimsy fabric of his jumper.

“Let’s go,” Potter said and Draco held onto his shoulder tightly, nodding.

***

In retrospect, Draco realized that he’d never actually agreed to this or said yes or made any other kind of indication that he actually wanted to come here; Potter had simply assumed and pushed himself into Draco’s schedule, a force to be reckoned with.

Draco did not, however, terribly mind; as it turned out, people were far too busy congratulating Seamus on the wedding and getting drunk to pay attention to Draco. Potter had rented a little pub in downtown London, where he’d put up concealment charms so heavy Draco wondered why the air wasn’t flickering with them. They had invited some of Seamus’ Muggle friends too, hence the need for Muggle clothes and the heavy ward over the room detecting any kind of magical activity.

Draco hadn’t been out drinking with friends since Hogwarts, and felt almost a little old when he ordered a glass of red wine for himself at the bar; there wasn’t much to do in Le Lavandou. He’d had a tryst or two with vacationing wizards, but most of his friends were tiny old nurses who he played bridge with. It was a sad thing to admit.

He paid for a round of drinks for Seamus’ table and sat with them, trying not to feel too awkward. Seamus’ face was red and happy and he was grinning as he exchanged stories of old conquests and wild affairs, laughing over his pint.

Draco leaned back against the padding of the booth, legs crossed, smiling as he listened. The wine was heavy and sweet, and he had not expected to find something as exquisite in a Muggle pub of all places. He finished his glass and then waved the rather scantily clad waitress over, asking for another of the same, which she brought back promptly along with Ron Weasley, who wedged himself between the table and a Hufflepuff whose name Draco did not know to sit right next to Draco.

Draco stared at him, blinking, face falling a little, waiting for the poke of a wand against his ribs and a threat or even worse. None of this came.

Weasley raised his quite full glass of amber liquid - whiskey? - and Draco responded automatically, clinking their glasses together with a melodic sound. He gulped down a sip, watching Weasley do the same over the rim of his glass.

“Cheers,” Weasley said, setting his glass down which was now half empty. Draco stared at him, not sure what to say.

“This is rather awkward,” he said finally, meeting Weasley’s eyes.

To his surprise, Weasley laughed and nodded with a flash of white teeth and blue eyes. “It is.” He took another gulp and Draco followed suit. “I am not going to apologize,” Weasley finally said, “but I think you did well and Ginny has been eating again since you did your thing with the curse.” He inclined his head and Draco felt a surge of happiness, pride, at having been able to change at least something.

“That’s- that’s good,” he managed.

“What are you drinking?” Weasley asked and pointed at his glass. “You’re not doing Seamus justice with this fancy shit.”

Draco was in the middle of wondering when Weasley had become so crude, when Weasley called over the waitress with a shrill whistle, ordering more whiskey - for himself and for Draco. Draco waved his hand, wanting to protest, but Weasley’s expression told him that there would be offense taken if Draco did not at least have one glass. He was not usually one to indulge people to avoid offending them, but here and now Draco remembered Potter’s words and accepted the glass as it was handed to him.

They clinked glass again and Draco took a large sip, the liquid burning sharply down his throat to pool warmly in his belly. It was good whiskey that left him a little hoarse for a minute as he appreciated the taste.

“This is fine,” he said.

“I know,” Weasley replied. “I brought a few bottles back from New Zealand and had Harry convince the owner to serve it if asked for.”

“Muggle or magic?” Draco inquired, raising the glass to take a closer look at the deep amber of the liqueur.

“Muggle,” Weasley said. “The only thing us wizards do right is Firewhiskey, and you can’t serve that here.”

“Very true,” Draco said and took a small sip of his drink. He was starting to feel the effects of the mixed alcohols and enjoyed the feeling. “What were you doing in New Zealand?”

“That’s not how we play this game,” Weasley said. “You owe me an answer still.”

“Huh,” Draco said. He might. “I live in Le Lavandou on the French riviera. Work as a spellbreaker at a Children’s hospital.”

“That’s not really what I expected,” Weasley said. He sounded surprised. “How’d you-?”

“I ended up in their ward for longterm patients after I fell into the coma. When I woke up there was nothing worth returning for, so I stayed. They needed me.” It was true. He finished his glass and waved the waitress over for another. “Your turn.”

“I can’t tell you,” Weasley said, grinning. “It’s Ministry work. They send me wherever I need to be.”

Draco frowned. “Not fair.” Their whiskey arrived and they went through their ritual again, clinking, drinking, nodding. Draco had never expected that he’d be having a civil conversation with Ron Weasley of all people.

“Ron!” a voice proclaimed from another table and Weasley perked up.

“That’s my brother,” he said to Draco and pushed himself up. “I gotta pop by and say hello.” He clapped Draco on the shoulder and squeezed himself out of the booth. By now Seamus’ wasn’t sitting with them anymore but was staring raptly at the pretty blonde dancer performing for him in the middle of the room.

Draco frowned and quickly drowned his displeasure in his glass of whiskey.

“Don’t tell Pansy,” a voice said and Potter shooed the unknown Hufflepuff away to sit next to Draco. The booth was now empty except for the two of them. They clinked glasses and downed their drinks in one go in a bout of rivalry.

Draco let his head fall back against the cushions, feeling the world spin a little, while Potter ordered more drinks.

“You talked to Ron,” he said and Draco pried his eyes open, turning his head to look at him.

“Yes, he’s a riot.”

Potter laughed and pushed a glass of bright pink liquid into his hands. Draco took a sip without having to be told, reveling in the sweet exotic taste.

“I knew you’d like that,” Potter said and gulped down a shot of whiskey.

“Fuck you,” Draco laughed and shook his head. People around them were no longer sitting; the music had picked up and there were more girls now and dancing and general hilarity as Draco watched some of the less gifted guests stumble around on in the middle of the room in an attempt to imitate some kind of dance.

Draco finished his glass and Potter pressed another into his hands, to which Draco responded with a raised brow. “If I didn’t know you better I’d think you were trying to get me drunk, Potter.”

Potter grinned. “You don’t know me at all.”

“Huh,” Draco said. He sniffed at his now orange drink and drank it anyway. Same sweetness, different flavor. “You said there wouldn’t be any girls, Potter. You lied to me.”

“No, I didn’t. They just turned up. Somebody else must’ve invited them.” There was a sly grin on Potter’s face and Draco shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“Come on, Malfoy, don’t be like that,” he said. “He’s not gonna do anything. He’s too bloody pissed. Let him do a little looking.”

Draco hmphed. He had never quite understood the appeal of barely clothed women, but that may have been due to entirely different reasons.

Potter laughed at him again. “You’re a good friend. But Seamus will be a good husband.”

“Yes, yes,” Draco said and waved his hand.

“I need to piss,” Potter said suddenly and pushed himself up, his hand on Draco’s knee warm and confusing.

“Okay?” Draco inquired and watched him go. He was more drunk than he had thought he was two minutes ago. His head was spinning and dizzy and by the time Potter came back, he’d slumped into the corner of the booth feeling a little unwell.

“Are you alright?” Potter asked and crawled on the bench, pushing his hand up Draco’s neck, squeezing reassuringly.

“No,” Draco said forcefully. “I’m too drunk. I need to go home I think.”

“Can you Floo?”

Draco’s stomach lurched at the thought of Flooing. It must’ve shown on his face because Potter pulled him up carefully, tugging Draco’s arm over his shoulder and sneaking his own around Draco’s waist.

His breath was hot against the top of Draco’s head, his body warm and hard and Draco pressed against him, taking in his scent, a mix of earthy cologne and a smell of moss that must’ve been all Potter.

He lost contact with the floor for a moment when they Apparated and then they were back in his flat, Draco against the wall and Potter’s body pressed against his, shifting, but not moving away.

Oh god, he thought, oh god. He slid his hand up Potter’s chest, heart racing a little, and then managed to gain control over himself again and pushed him away, stumbling into the open space of his living room.

“I need a drink,” he said and slumped down on the chaise longue, arms over his head. “Make one for me?”

Potter followed him into the room, looming over him, hand on his belt, and for a moment Draco considered sitting up and putting his hand on Potter’s to undo that belt and bury his face in Potter’s crotch. Harry’s crotch, he thought drunkenly. He was not in the habit of having sexual thoughts about people he was not on a first name basis with.

“Ask nicely,” Harry said and leaned down and Draco stared up at him, needing a moment to remember that he’d asked for a drink and that Potter was not telling Draco to ask if he wanted to give Potter head.

“Please, make me a drink,” he said and then laughed and shook his head. It was surreal. He did not know what was going on, if the tension he felt was real or just Harry’s magical presence filling the room.

Potter - Harry! - sauntered into the kitchen and started looking through cabinets, fishing out bottles and glasses and Draco closed his eyes, enjoying the sounds of another person familiarizing themselves with his flat.

Harry returned a few moments later, handing Draco a glass with clear, fizzy liquid, and sat on the large armchair facing Draco.

Draco sat up a little and took a sip, finding it to be a rather well-mixed gin-tonic. The bitter taste cleared his head a little and he sighed, gulping down more. When he was done, Harry was staring at him intently, slowly sipping what appeared to be a glass of Draco’s priceless whiskeys.

“That glass alone,” he said, pointing, “is worth half a week’s pay.”

Harry hummed. “It’s nice.”

“Of course,” Draco said indignantly. He’d chosen the year himself.

“Why did you come back?” Harry said after a while. He had crossed his legs and Draco shifted a little onto his side, still lying down, to face him.

“Because I was offered a job here,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“I mean, really, why?” Harry insisted. “You could have said no. You have no relation to the British Ministry anymore. You are no longer a citizen, even. You knew that people wouldn’t welcome you with open arms.”

Draco frowned and shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said, “I guess I wanted to see what would happen. I wanted to see what had become of everyone.” He took another sip of his drink, starting to feel better, the nausea almost gone.

Harry regarded him with heavy eyes. “Did we turn out as you expected?”

“No,” Draco said, smiling. “Not at all. I mean, a week ago you were the biggest arse and now we’re here and I trust you enough to rummage in my kitchen.”

Harry laughed. “And you’re letting me drink your six hundred Galleon whiskey.”

“That’s a pretty good approximation,” Draco drawled. “It’s odd. All you people, you have your lives here and I just expected- I expected to return and for everything to be as I’d left it.”

“You changed, too,” Harry said. He shifted, drawing one foot up on the chair. “You’re far less pompous. I might even call you humble at times. I remember in school you were the biggest prick.”

Draco laughed earnestly. “Gosh, I suppose I was. It was my way of dealing with things.” The alcohol made it easier for him to speak. It smoothed his thoughts out and made him less afraid to admit to things. “Despite what you might think, it wasn’t easy for me being who I was.”

Harry tilted his head. “How so?”

“A homosexual pureblood wizard? Please, even you should know that that’s not necessarily a lifestyle choice very welcome in pureblood families.” He shook his head, sighing.

Harry didn’t comment on that, but suddenly a smirk bloomed over his face. “Since we’re having this little purging now, let’s play a little game.”

“A game?” Draco perked up.

“Yes,” Harry said. “Each of us gets to ask a question which must be answered truthfully.”

“Then we’re already in the middle of it,” Draco said, “and you owe me two.”

“Go right ahead.” Harry raised his glass at him and took another sip.

“Who were you really interested in when we were still in school?”

“Hm,” Harry replied, thinking. “You’re expecting me to say Ginny or Cho, or maybe even Hermione, aren’t you? The former two are true, but only for a while. I was too busy with, you know, fighting the dark lord and being the chosen one to do much romancing.”

Draco laughed at that. You had to learn to appreciate Harry’s humor and see that it wasn’t truly arrogance, but well-groomed self-critique.

“Never a boy?” Draco smiled at him, watching his face.

“Oh, at times,” Harry answered, his smile mirroring Draco’s.

“Who?” Draco’s interest was woken.

“My turn,” Harry said and Draco had to admit that this was true. “Your crush in school.”

“Oh god,” Draco said and turned his face against the upholstery. “Do I have to answer?” He sighed. “Remus Lupin.”

Harry broke out laughing. “What?”

Draco shrugged, still not looking at him. “He was so ruggedly handsome. I realized it after he’d left. It was your typical schoolboy crush. Quite silly. I never did anything about it, of course.”

“So, no secret tête-à-têtes for you?”

Draco cooed a little, then laughed. “What do you think? A good-looking wizard like me? I assure you I had plenty.”

“Most torrid?” Harry’s stare was intense, his eyes dark. Draco knew that it was long his own turn to ask questions, but Harry’s voice was edging him on, stirring exhibitionistic needs inside of him.

“Hm.” He shifted onto his back again, stretching his long legs, angling one knee up, quite aware of how he looked. “Blaise, probably.”

“Tell me.” Harry’s voice was low, unlike anything Draco had ever heard it sound like. It made him swallow hard.

“What do you want to know?” Draco grinned, pulse racing.

“Everything,” Harry said. Draco heard him shift again, waiting, and then did as he was told. He told Harry about their first time in the empty dorms during Christmas break in sixth year, the time in the Astronomy tower, the greenhouse and all the other places Draco had found pleasure in disgracing. He found the words ran easily and without embarrassment and he found himself telling Harry more and more, almost unable to stop.

When he was done, he stayed still, breathing a little harder, the sound mingling with Harry’s own ragged breath.

“And now?” Harry asked. “Who’d you invite to your bed now?”

Draco laughed a little. “Oh, I don’t know. Your friend Weasley, he’s become quite fit. All those years as a field agent. I would not refuse him.” He stopped suddenly, becoming aware of what he’d just admitted and what other more filthy things were about to spill from his mouth and his eyes widened as he turned towards Harry, who was watching him quietly.

“I can't believe you,” he hissed and sat up, body spinning with alcohol and the underlying exhilaration that only one potion brought with it. “I can’t believe you did that.” He felt his breath speed up, furious. His arousal was gone, but the deep attraction he’d felt towards Harry was barely buried under a layer of anger which made the entire scene even worse.

“Tell me about your mother,” Harry ordered and Draco found himself unable to resist the pull of the Veritaserum. It must’ve been in his drink and now he was so far gone with it there was no way he could attempt to fight it.

“She died when I removed the Dark Mark from my body,” he stated almost calmly, hands curling into fists on his knees. “I broke the spell not knowing that there was a failsafe and I killed her.”

“What else?” Harry asked, staring at Draco.

“I don’t remember anything else. I don’t remember what the curse looked like. I don’t remember how I did it.” Draco felt sick to the pit of his stomach. He wondered how long Harry had been planning this. He lay back against the recamier again, waiting for Harry to ask more questions.

“And you really are here to help?” Harry continued after a moment.

“Yes, you bloody git,” Draco spat. “I don’t have anything else in my life. I break spells. There’s not much else to it. My mother is dead. My whole family is either dead as well or had the Kiss. My best friend lives in a country that treats me like a prisoner when I come back to help.” He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling sick again.

“Do you really not see any way to help Neville and Lisa without the source of the curse?” Harry’s voice was flat and emotionless now. Draco wanted to cry.

“No,” he said. “I need to see where it came from and what it looks like and then I might be able to resolve it. I told Hermione so. But there’s something she’s not telling me.” Every single thing spilling from his mouth now was the serum. It pulled the words from deep within him, laying him open and bare.

“Were you ever involved with the Death Eaters?” Harry said, asking the most obvious question.

“No, my father had me marked right before the war started. I think he did it because he hated me. Because he knew I would have to run. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay and fight. He made me kill my mother through it.” He felt a deep sob rise up and suppressed it, gritting his teeth. “I trusted you, Potter. You could’ve asked me all these things without the help of a potion.”

“Would I have gotten the same kind of detail?” Harry sighed a little and Draco shook his head.

“No.” He held his breath, waiting. “Are we done? Please, don’t make me tell you anymore.” He was begging and embarrassed by what he’d already told Harry. “This is mortifying.” He covered his face with his hands, trying hard to not say anymore, but unable to hold it in. “I thought- I thought when you touched me- When you took me home-” He bit his tongue, drawing blood, and then felt Harry step closer and crouch next to him.

He pried Draco’s hands from his face and rubbed his thumbs over Draco’s wrists. “Don’t,” Draco breathed, his body too honest, reacting to the touch as Harry pulled Draco’s hands over his head.

“I had some myself,” Harry said, voice raw. “I wanted to put us in equal positions.” He pressed closer and finally Draco opened his eyes to find Harry hovering over him, knee on the recamier next to Draco’s hip. He slid his hand up Draco’s thigh, making him whimper a little.

“Don’t do this,” Draco pleaded, shifting up into the touch. Harry’s pupils were dilated, making his eyes almost black. He leaned down and pressed his nose against Draco’s neck, holding him tightly as Draco strained against the hand on his wrists.

“Ask me a question,” Harry said against his neck.

“No,” Draco insisted. “This is so wrong, Harry. You can’t get me drunk, drug me, and then expect me to-”

“What?”

Draco bit his tongue in order not to be drawn into an elaborate description of what he might do if Harry didn’t stop. “Get off me,” he managed and it took almost all his willpower. “Get the fuck off me, Potter.”

That seemed to do the trick finally; Harry let go of him, sitting back, showing the palms of his hands. “I should leave,” he said.

Draco nodded weakly, heart pounding, not saying anything in fear that the serum might make him tell Harry to stay, following only what his most primal instincts called for. Harry got up, smoothed out his shirt and did not meet Draco’s eyes before he Disapparated, leaving Draco nauseous and shaking and considering leaving the whole lot of them to rot with that curse they may very well have earned.

***

Draco had lost track of time when he untangled himself from a warm body and padded from the bedroom to the kitchen to get a glass of water, drinking thirstily. It might have been early morning or dusk creeping in, he could not tell from the light outside.

On the kitchen island five or six letters that had arrived within the past twenty-four hours were still waiting, unread and heavily ignored.

Draco set to the task of making coffee, humming quietly, padding around barefoot and in only his silken morning kimono. He had received news from home that all was in order but that he was sorely missed; he’d started making plans of returning soon, which made him feel much safer and more in control.

The sound of the doorbell - heard for the first time since he’d moved back in - made him jerk, clinking his cup of coffee against the marble counter. He considered not opening the door.

“Draco,” a voice sounded through it, “I can hear your coffee machine!”

Draco groaned and grabbed his cup and wrenched the door open violently, looking at Harry bloody Potter, face hot with anger and embarrassment.

“Would you leave me alone already?” he hissed. “I thought my ignoring your owls was indication enough that I did not wish to communicate with you any further.”

“I figured as much,” Harry said. He looked hungover and tired, hands stuffed into loose jeans. “Are you going back to France?”

“Yes,” Draco said. “I am.”

Harry stared at him, jaw tight. “I apologize,” he finally pressed out. “I had orders to question you under Veritaserum.”

“Aha,” Draco made and felt his brows rise.

“I thought- I made a stupid split-second decision to do it here, hoping you would never notice,” Harry continued.

Draco laughed and shook his head. “You thought I wouldn’t notice that I’d been drugged with a potion that potent?”

“I was very drunk, I wasn’t exactly coherent and-” Harry shot back and then stopped dead, cut off by Blaise’s padding steps into the kitchen, coming closer. He wound himself around Draco, arms around his waist, hands splayed out on his chest, tall form pressed tightly to Draco’s back. Draco was not usually a fan of public displays of affection, but the look on Harry’s face made this one worth it.

“You were saying?” he asked, leaning back against Blaise.

“That you have been cleared for the highest security level,” Harry said tightly. His hands were now curled into fists at his side, which Draco noted with interest. “I’m here to take you to Floor Zero of the Ministry.”

That made Draco perk up a little, curiosity taking over. “Floor Zero?”

“Hermione wants to show you the box that was found.” Harry’s eyes were fixed on Draco, as though he was intentionally avoiding looking at Blaise. Draco made a show of gently rubbing Blaise’s arm.

“Wait for me,” he told Harry and shut the door in his grim-looking face.

***

Floor Zero turned out to be on the floor below the Department of Experimental Magic; it was dark down here, and the background hum Draco had felt when Harry had first led him to Hermione’s office through the back entrance was even stronger. He could see the air glimmer faintly with the underlying magic and shuddered, remembering what Hermione had told him about the things down here.

Harry seemed perfectly at home, strolling on ahead, unaffected by whatever was making it hard for Draco to focus properly, and Draco realized that what he’d thought to be ignorance to the magical pressure, was in truth a sort of twisted immunity. Hermione had been quite literal when she’d said that part of Harry belonged down here.

It was an endless walk and Draco pressed his lips together tightly, refusing to initiate conversation, and seeing no reason for it either. He could feel Harry’s desire to say something, which made him want to stay quiet all the more.

Harry pushed open what seemed like another random door leading into yet another dark hallway. They kept walking quietly, until Harry could apparently not contain himself any further.

“So, did you sleep with him?” he bit out, staring darkly down at Draco.

Draco smirked a little. “It would appear so.” He met Harry’s eyes, staring back, forcing his face into indifference. “Repeatedly.”

“Whatever.” Harry was radiating anger and it made his magic flare up; Draco grit his teeth and followed, ignoring his instinct telling him to back down.

Through another door and down another hallway and then through a gate made of solid copper; beyond was a small square room, walls lined with the same solid copper, with a table and a few chairs where Hermione was already waiting for them.

“Hello,” she said and smiled at him and Draco was pleased to see her glare at Harry a little. It made him wonder, though, how much she knew.

“Hi,” he said and sat in one of the chairs, crossing his legs. “I hear you have something to show me?”

“Yes.” Hermione nodded. Draco felt a vague presence from beyond; he could not pinpoint its exact direction, but it struck familiar inside of him, like a faint memory.

“Harry, would you?” Hermione gestured at the wall, and Harry moved next to it, making an odd lifting motion and part of the wall just moved, revealing a large window looking into a chamber the same size of the room they were in. It was dark but Draco did not need any light to see the winding and ever changing, undulating threads of a violent curse, working its magic in the depths of the Ministry. He got up and stepped closer.

It was almost alive, and Draco did not recognize it instantly, and then when he did he held his breath, staring. He could clearly see the origin of the loop in the curses on Longbottom and Turpin, but there was more. It was so complex, its individual threads were barely individual anymore. He felt as though he knew it, the same feeling he’d encountered so many times before since he’d started dealing with this spell.

“How many days since Turpin was cursed?”

“It’s Sunday morning,” Hermione said slowly, “around this time, eleven days ago.” She checked her watch. “Late morning, around ten, maybe? It’s barely eight now.”

“Shit,” Draco said. “Bloody shit.”

“What?” Hermione moved next to him, eyes wide, and Harry followed suit, hovering next to them.

Draco took Hermione’s hand and let her see what he saw for a moment. “It’s preparing,” he said softly, “that’s why it’s moving so much. There’s a whole string of threads that I can’t read and there in the middle, the large knot, that’s a time trigger.”

He let go and when he looked at Hermione all the color had gone from her face, as she was understanding the implications of what Draco was saying. “Can you disable it?” she asked quietly and Draco pressed the heel of his palm against his eyes, shaking his head.

“It’s eight? Not in two hours. I have no idea who it’s gonna hit next, Hermione.” He turned his eyes back on it. It was a ticking time bomb and he had no idea how it worked.

His fear must’ve been blatantly written all over his face, because Harry’s hand found the back of his neck, squeezing, rubbing, and Draco did not move away despite himself.

“I need to see it up close,” he said quietly.

“That’s not possible,” Hermione replied, voice tight. “It’s far too dangerous.”

“It’s already been triggered by your Aurors stomping around,” Draco hissed, almost furious, “I need to take a look if I want any chance of disabling it.” He stepped forward and pressed his hand against the window. It was almost as though it was calling for him, a dark beckoning to which something inside Draco answered.

He pulled free of Harry’s grip and gave Hermione a persistent look. “In two hours someone will collapse and in another eleven days it might happen again, Hermione”

She seemed to crumble and finally nodded. “Alright, but Harry will ward you.”

Draco glared up at Harry, but finally inclined his head in agreement.

***

“I am sorry, I really am,” Harry said insistently when they had reached the door to the chamber with the box. Draco turned a little to look at him, wanting to snap at him for this being not the right time or place for this, but stopped himself, because it was. Harry might not get another chance to apologize and Draco knew this and still could not accept it. He looked away quickly and they stepped inside, Draco holding his breath when the bubble of Harry’s warding spell engulfed him.

He looked up at the faces of Hermione and Weasley and a few other Aurors with clearance staring down into the chamber, the expressions on their faces making him more uneasy than anything he was about to face.

Harry stepped up next to him and then urged him on when Draco found it hard to make the decision for himself.

The box in the middle of the room was plain. Draco looked at it first, ignoring the curse; wood, metal hinges, very ordinary by any kind of wizard standards. He circled it, examining carefully, and could not see anything out of order with it.

Harry kept following him, shielding him, and soon Draco stopped and tried taking a look at the spell, but found he could only barely see it for the oddest reason. He focused harder and felt his vision begin to swim and looked away, blinking.

“I can’t see,” he snapped at Harry. “Tune it down a little.” It was as though the background hum of Harry’s magic in action blurred everything else around him; he was shimmering in Draco’s eyes, bright almost.

“I can’t,” Harry replied, shrugged and raised his hands in defense. “That’s as low as it’ll get.”

Draco pressed his lips together, suddenly angry; he could not work like this, not with Harry hovering, not with Harry being so bloody stubborn. He felt irritation flare up within him and he shook his wand from his sleeve, pushing back at Harry’s magic and his ward, not wanting to be controlled.

“Stop that, Draco!” Harry raised his hand a little, the magic of his ward growing stronger, and shook his head, a perplexed expression on his face.

“Then put down the ward,” Draco hissed, furious. There were voices behind the glass, but Draco did not care. He needed to see it now, whatever the cost.

“Don’t be stupid,” Harry said, “you’re going to get hurt if you don’t stop-”

Draco ignored him. He could feel it, though, the anvil of Harry’s powers weighing him down heavily. He winced, but fought on and then suddenly it was gone, Harry stepping back, looking up and raising his hands in defense as though he was apologizing to someone.

Draco whirled around breathless and found himself staring at the sinuous mass of the curse he’d so long been desperate to see; it flooded through him, all the threads and knots and turns, the triggers and targets, the intricate venom, malice of this thing, and yet it seemed more than a faint memory now. It was a familiar; he stepped closer, reaching out, almost touching.

He’d seen it before, or something like it. A younger brother, a sister, and he’d put it to sleep. He could read it as clear as in a book, the lines laid open before his eyes, and he recognized it, he recognized the hand that had so clearly left its mark, the script all too familiar.

“Oh god,” he breathed, and felt the world start spinning, vision going dizzy as long lost memories began pouring back into him, an overload of information that pulled the floor from under his feet and made him drop, flowing darkness over him.

***

Draco drifted in and out of sleep, between dreams and what he thought reality was, for what felt like an eternity; his sense of time was all mangled, and his dreams led him through strange worlds and forced him to relive his darkest moments over and over again.

He woke at up some point to gentle hands forcing liquids down his throat, soothing voices, but fell right back into the haze, dreaming of dragons and an endless, terrifying darkness creeping over the lands.

Another time he came to momentarily to feel a sleeping, waiting presence close by, a hand on his shoulder, the brush of hair against his skin, before he was dragged away again, too dazed to realize he’d actually woken.

When he did finally regain consciousness, it was as though he had to fight out from under a layer of thick, dark molasses, clinging to his senses and trying to drag him down into the void again. He found his hearing again first, voices and sounds blooming up around him, then his sense of touch as he moved his hands over the almost rough linen he was wrapped in, realizing what it was. Scent and taste followed, and then sight in a flash of light that left him gasping.

“He’s awake,” a voice whispered and then another answered something else, Draco could not quite understand. Hands on his neck and face tilted him forward a little, and again a potion was forced into him. It did not help much, except for calming the steadily rising nausea.

“Draco?” That was Pansy.

He lolled his head to his side to look at her and found her face lacked definition, all blurry lines and dark and bright spots. “Pansy,” he croaked and his voice did not sound like his own again.

“His stats are okay.” Another voice. Pansy reached out and rubbed her hands over his hair gently.

Draco had trouble focusing, feeling himself slip away again for moments at a time, breathing becoming laborious again. There were more people, forms and faces that he could not recognize through the blur.

“I remember it now,” he said hoarsely and squeezed his eyes shut, head spinning. “I need to talk to Hermione immediately.”

“You need to sleep,” the second voice said and Draco could not resist the tempting sound of that and the pull of the potion. He was gone again only seconds later, drifting off once more.

***

The next time he woke, he was far more lucid, blinking himself awake slowly. It was dark; he was in a white sterile, hospital room, but there was a faint glow from the door where light was seeping in from under the door. He rolled onto his side, limbs stiff, stomach feeling completely empty as though he had not eaten in days.

He felt clearer, faintly remembering waking and then falling back into his dreams, and in his head he could not quite separate reality from dream anymore. He stretched his arms and legs, trying to regain some feeling into them. His body felt unused, like it had not moved on its own accord for a long while, and he rolled onto his back again, groaning a little.

A sudden noise, shifting fabric, startled him and made him freeze. He could not see beneath the darkness, and felt his heart racing.

“Hello?” he called out, blindly fumbling for his wand, but not finding it, turning onto his other side to find Harry, looking as though he’d woken quite suddenly, slumped in a chair to the right of Draco’s bed.

“Harry?” Draco squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again, staring up at Harry.

“Hrm?” A throaty noise and Harry leaned down, reaching out to touch his face and hair, almost as if under pretense that he was simply checking if he was fine.

“What are you doing here?” Draco asked, too tired and frankly too comfortable to move away.

“Draco duty,” Harry said softly. “My turn tonight.”

Draco let out a little laugh that echoed a little painfully through his body. “Draco duty? That’s what the kids call it these days?”

Harry huffed a laugh, his thumb catching on the corner of Draco’s mouth before finding his chin, rubbing.

“What happened?” Draco closed his eyes again; he was tired, still, but warm and comfortable and hyper-aware.

“You fell over when I put down the ward.” Harry’s voice was a low hum. “Quite suddenly. Took one look at the box, and then you were gone. I was actually going to ask you the same question.”

Draco sighed a little; it was a little taxing, and he was too tired to really be angry anyway. Harry’s hand on his skin and in his hair, gently stroking, were not helping. “You should’ve told me, you know,” he said quietly.

A questioning sound and Draco pulled away from his touch, sitting up against the pillow. “I saw it as soon as I got closer. My father wove that spell, Harry. You should have told me from the beginning.”

Harry stayed quiet, watching him intently in the dark.

“I’m sick and tired of being lied to,” Draco continued, but there was no anger in his voice. “Had I known from the beginning-” He stopped, sighing.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said eventually. “I am. We just weren’t sure. About anything.”

“How long was I out?” Draco was too exhausted to fight.

“Three days,” Harry said and then his face fell a little. “Cho was hit while you were gone.”

Draco squeezed his eyes shut, stomach lurching a little, feeling as though it was his own fault. “I need to see her and block the loop.”

“You need to sleep more.” Harry leaned in and suddenly he was all Draco could see. “You need to rest, Draco.” He reached out again, cupping Draco’s cheek. Had it not been the middle of the night, in a hospital room, had Draco not just woken from a three day coma, feeling a little detached, he might have thought it was kitsch.

“I’m still angry at you,” he said, staring up at Harry, heart speeding up a little. “About everything.”

“I know.” Harry smiled a little. “I’d be pretty disappointed if you weren’t.”

“Good.” Draco swallowed and managed to smile back despite himself. A warm calm was starting to spread from Harry’s palm throughout his body, making it hard for him to keep his eyes open.

“I thought I told you to not do that without asking,” he breathed and distantly heard Harry chuckle.

“‘m no good at taking orders.”

Draco wanted to shoot something back, something witty, funny, a little biting, but found that his vocal chords would not obey him anymore and his hands were falling asleep. He breathed a sigh, sleep rolling over him once more.

***

Binding the loop on Chang’s curse almost put Draco in St. Mungo’s again; it was easier now that he knew who’d written it and could see ahead when it tried to wind itself out of the grip of his own magic, but three days in deep sleep and without proper nourishment had left him weak, nerves brittle.

It was as though a veil had been lifted from before his eyes. His father’s hand in the spell was undeniable and Draco could not believe that he’d simply missed it all the times he’d examined the curse. There was, without a doubt, more to it. Draco suspected some kind of obliviation charm, yet another failsafe built into the spell that had bound the ink of the Mark to his skin.

Hermione came to see him after he’d recollected some of his strength, sitting outside in the hallway, sipping tea. She looked extraordinarily tired and Draco was certain that she’d only caught a few hours of sleep in the entirety of his three day absence.

“You people,” Draco began softly after she’d sat down heavily in the chair next to Draco’s. “Noble, honest Gryffindors.” He shook his head and shot her a look, taking a sip from his fruit tea.

“We didn’t know for sure,” she said, carefully meeting his eyes. “It would have been too much of a risk telling you everything from the beginning.”

Draco sighed, closing his eyes, feeling a mix of emotions stir within him. There was anger over the multitude of lies, disappointment almost as though he’d been betrayed. “Nobody ever asked me.” He opened his eyes again and took another sip. “And when you did, you had Harry Potter get me drunk and drug me.”

Hermione pursed her lips. “I did not have him do anything. He was supposed to question you in an official environment and was acting against all kinds of regulations that night.”

“Whatever.” It was a futile discussion that lead nowhere and Draco was tired of it.

“Are you going to tell me anything, Draco?” She tilted her head at him, eyes almost pleading.

“Hm,” Draco said. “I ought to just go home after all this.” Hermione’s eyes widened and Draco sighed again. “But I won’t. It’s in many ways similar to how the Mark was bound to me, but more complex.” He rested his elbow on his knee, pressing the paper cup of warm tea against his temple to ease his headache. “I will have to study it more closely, but it doesn’t have an end knot and it’s self-repeating in an eleven day rhythm.” He stopped swallowing heavily, recalling the details of the curse in his mind, tracing it. “What’s worse, there are no clearly defined targets. I don’t know what that means yet, but I don’t think it’s good. But what I do know, is that if I can break it, it will end the curses on your Aurors too.”

Hermione was quiet for a long time after he’d finished speaking. “Thank you,” she said eventually. “For helping us. Despite everything.” She stopped and Draco looked up, finding her face tight with sorrow and fear. “We should’ve handled many things differently.”

“Yes,” Draco said. “You should have.” He finished his tea. “I want to go home now.”

“Of course.” Hermione nodded. “Should I Apparate you?”

Draco nodded and got up when the door to Chang’s room opened.

“I’ll take him,” Harry said, stuffing his hands into his jeans, walking towards them. “You need to catch some sleep, Hermione.” His face was serious; Draco blinked and tilted his head at him, too surprised to refuse.

Hermione exhaled in relief, nodding. “Thank you, Harry.” She lightly touched Draco’s arm and got up. “Now that I know that Cho’s safe for the moment, I might actually be able to. Tired as I am, I shouldn’t Apparate anyway.” She turned towards Draco. “Let’s start over tomorrow, yeah?”

Still caught by surprise, Draco nodded. “Sure.”

She took off down the hall and Harry ducked his head a little, stepping into Draco’s personal space without an ounce of hesitation.

“Come on, Draco.” He reached out and touched Draco’s arm. “Let me take you home?”

It was almost a question, but not quite. Draco stared up at him and finally gave in, too tired and worn to protest. “Alright.” He closed the last bit of space between them, putting his hand on Harry’s hip, holding on.

The world uprooted itself, making Draco’s stomach lurch a little but when he inhaled to catch his breath they were already standing on the doormat outside his flat.

“Thanks,” he said thickly and fumbled for his wand, disabling the wards and pushing the door open. Harry didn’t move. Draco moved forward and over the threshold. “Well, you took me home-”

“Can I come in?” Harry cut him off, but didn’t wait for his answer, just pushed past him, leaving no room for objections. Draco closed the door and followed him to the kitchen, unsure what to do, not prepared for a situation like this. Harry leaned against the counter, shoulders slumped and hands in his pockets again; he looked like a boy who’d hexed pig ears on his sister and now wanted to apologize to his parents. Draco stopped by the sofa and sat against it.

“You could just tell me,” he said, lifting a brow, waiting; his voice was cold as ice but there was nothing he could’ve done to stop that right now. “Get it off your chest and all.”

Harry met his gaze and held it. “I messed up,” he admitted, finally.

Draco felt his brow rise higher. “Yes.”

“I didn’t want to lie to you, but I didn’t want you to think that we didn’t trust you either.” Harry looked down. “Hermione had scheduled the Veritaserum test for the next day. I was drunk. I didn’t want you to have to do it.”

“And you just happened to carry around a vial?” It was so hard to believe that he was getting angry again.

Harry laughed a little and shook his head. “Actually, Ron and I had planned to give a drop to Seamus towards the end of the evening. Auror tradition. I only had two or three drops in the vial. I shared it between the two of us.”

Draco opened and closed his mouth. “Only three?” Which meant he hadn’t even had a full dosage.

“Yes. I don’t know what I was thinking.” He reached up and tousled his hair, almost smiling a little. “When I had you here, I guess I just wanted to get it over with without you knowing. Get it out of the way.”

It was stupid and selfish and arrogant and perfectly Harry Potter. Draco crossed his arms. “None of this, however, justifies anything.”

“I know.” Harry pushed himself off the counter and crossed the few feet between them, crowding Draco against the sofa. “Not my brightest moment.”

Draco snorted. “Of which you appear to have so many.” His breath caught in his throat when Harry’s hands found his hips and squeezed lightly, holding him there.

“You’re not gonna make this easy, are you?” Harry asked and Draco turned his head away a little, fingers curling against the upholstery, digging in.

“I’m not easy, Potter.” When he faced Harry again, they were so close their lips were almost touching. Draco swallowed tightly, resisting the urge to hold his breath.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered against his mouth, hot, and Draco let his eyes flutter shut, chest rising and falling quickly. “I’m sorry.”

He turned his head a little more, tilting up, and then their lips fit together in a slow, languid kiss; he reached out with one hand and found Harry’s arm, holding on. Harry pressed closer, opening his mouth a little, and Draco complied, kissing back, flitting his tongue out to meet Harry’s, wet and slow and lazy. Harry’s fingers tightened against his hip, squeezing, and Draco gasped, deepening the kiss a little until they were both breathless.

Harry broke away and moved his lips down his chin and neck, sucking softly until Draco pushed at his arm a little. “Harry,” he said softly, “Harry.”

“Hm?” Harry straightened up, tilting his head at him.

“I’m exhausted,” Draco replied and it was true. His body was urgently calling for rest.

Harry had the grace to not look completely disappointed; he ducked down and kissed Draco again anyway, but softer this time, less demanding.

“Alright,” he said hesitantly after he’d pulled away. “Do you want me to pick you up tomorrow?” A little hopeful.

Draco smiled and shook his head. “No, I’ll Floo.” He sneaked out from Harry’s grip and stretched. “Good night, Harry.”

Harry smiled back, almost rueful, and smoothed out his shirt. “Good night, Draco.” He moved his hand a little and Disapparated, leaving Draco to stumble into the bathroom.

***

Draco found the Ministry had rearranged the floor plan of the rooms around the chamber with the box and included a large adjoining observation room with comfortable chairs and a coffee machine, for which he was eternally grateful. There was a large window that with the tap of a wand would appear or disappear, giving a perfect, close view of the box and the curse resting on it and allowing Draco to study it in peace and relative quiet.

He spent all morning and most of midday and early afternoon drawing and making sketches, poking at it carefully from afar if he could not quite distinguish something. He made progress, surprisingly, and managed to filter out all the important bits and pieces, sketch them down and label them by the time the door opened and Hermione poked her head in.

“Hey,” she said and pushed inside with her shoulder, holding a tray with some stew and bread. Draco felt his stomach rumble, realizing for the first time since his morning toast how hungry he actually was.

“Making progress?” she said and placed the tray in front of Draco, who dug in shamelessly.

He nodded with his mouth full, and then gracefully swallowed before replying. “Yes, I believe so. I have been able to separate the sections.” He shoved one of the sketches towards her. “This is the timer. See?” He tapped his finger on a knot on the parchment. “It’s rather elegant.” He stopped for a moment, throat going a little tight. “It’s far more elaborate than the curse that bound the Mark to me. My father must have been quite busy before he was finally caught.” He dipped the bread in the stew and took another bite while Hermione studied his notes.

“I don’t know what most of them do,” Draco said when she was done. “There are some combinations in there that I haven’t seen before, not even in Death Eater spells.”

“Can you break it?” she asked bluntly.

Draco finished his bread and then pushed the tray back before answering, biting the inside of his lip with worry and doubt for a moment. “I think I can. I was able to break the Mark’s curse.” He felt his mouth tighten, thinking of his mother. “I-” He stopped again, searching her face, suddenly feeling insecure. “I remember now how I did it, and I remember. I remember the mistakes that I made.” They would not happen again, he added silently.

She nodded and then pointed at another sketch. “This one binds all the targets together, doesn’t it? It puts them in a network.”

“Ah.” Draco tilted his head to get a better look, then nodded. “You’re perfectly correct.” He felt his face light up a little. “Meaning, we can use it to undo the damages on everyone.”

Hermione made an excited noise, fingers tracing the ink. “How do we get there, then?”

“That- yes.” He drew a circle on the table with his fingers, leaving a faint trail of glowing magical residue on the way, and then wiped it away again. “That’s not gonna be that easy. I found a failsafe that’s connected to all major functions.”

“What does it do?”

Draco looked up at her, suddenly feeling helpless. “I don’t know yet. You can see that it’s not a traditional spell at all. There’s no order.” He shook his head. “I’m sure my father made it this way on purpose. He found a way to encode the very magic itself.”

“Draco,” Hermione said softly and he realized that his every emotion must have been showing on his face, turning away.

“I’ll break it,” he said softly, determined. “I just need some more time.” He reached for his coffee and took a big sip, frowning as he realized the heating spell had worn off. “Ugh. And fresh coffee.” He noticed that his faux-relaxed tone did not elude Hermione; she frowned at him a little and reached out and touched his shoulder gently.

“Don’t pity me, Granger,” he drawled and gave her a hard stare, not wanting to be seen like this, weak and vulnerable and open.

But Hermione just smiled at him, almost sadly, and shook her head. “Not pity, Draco. Empathy. I, too, have lost people and have people to lose, still.”

Her eyes were dark and deep and full of sudden sorrow, so Draco reached up and squeezed her hand. There was a subtle truth in her words, Draco realized, a bleak prophecy the outcome of which he did not want to think about too closely.

***

He wandered upstairs again when his sense of time stopped functioning, eyes heavy, and found that he’d worked well into the night. The breakroom was completely empty and when he crossed the hallway to the staff fireplaces he found all of them dark and unlit.

“Bloody-,” he cursed, sighing and lighting one lantern on the wall, barely bringing any illumination to the darkness of the room. There was a stack of wood in the corner, but Draco had always been rather bad at household spells. He sighed and started stacking logs into one of the empty fireplaces, extraordinarily unamused and annoyed at the splinters sticking to his fine silk shirt. He continued until there was what he thought to be a reasonable amount in the fireplace and pointed his wand.

Incendio,” he breathed and there was a flick of fire in the wood which flared up rather nicely and engulfed the logs. He watched it crackle and blaze and then sizzle down to burn slowly at only the bottom logs. He made a frustrated noise and prodded the stack with the tip of his shoe. He could try another and risk an overload or just wait a while until the fire had gotten big enough.

“You don’t have your heart in it,” a voice said from the hallway and Draco spun and found his face coloring instantly upon the realization that Harry must’ve stood there and watched him fail at a simple Incendio. It might even have been more mortifying than spilling all his secrets drunk and on Veritaserum.

“That’s why it starts out nicely, but then dies down.” Harry took a step towards him, smiling, gaze fixed on Draco, who opened and closed his mouth but found nothing useful to say. “Because you don’t believe that you can do it properly.”

“I can,” Draco said indignantly, finally finding his voice again. “And why are you here? It’s the middle of the night.” It was a valid question and Draco tilted his chin in challenge.

“Could ask you the same thing.” Harry crossed over and Draco stepped back instinctively, shoulders hitting the mantel of the fireplace.

“You need to stop stalking me, Potter,” he said, staring up, heart speeding up with excitement of all kinds; the darkness of the room and the look in Harry’s eyes, his aura, made Draco feel a sense of danger.

“Don’t get cocky with me. What if I’m on duty?” Harry retorted and hustled him against the fireplace, hand suddenly on his wrist, holding him tightly. “And you’re trespassing, aren’t you? Do you have permission to be here at this hour?” Draco smirked up at him lazily and set out to say something in return, when suddenly Harry’s hand found his other wrist as well, making him gasp as he pulled them both up over Draco’s head and held them there. Adrenaline sparked through him a second later, making the blood rush in his ears as he strained against the grip. He was pinned, with his wand over his head and Harry Potter looming over him like a panther who’d spotted his next meal. It was probably the most arousing thing that had ever happened to him, but also terrifying as Harry’s aura washed over him in a thick wave, like saltwater spindrift rising heavily in a gust of wind.

“Harry,” he pressed out, heart beating faster and faster, and strained against the grip on his wrists again. “Can you-?” He stopped, swallowing tightly, eyes flicking over Harry’s face.

“Can I what?” Harry pressed closer, brushing their noses together and Draco held his breath, eyes widening. Harry pushed one knee between his legs, making him gasp, and slid his mouth down his cheek and throat, breathing against his neck, then whispered roughly. “That’s what you want?”

Draco felt himself nod and let his head fall back a little, hands clenching into fists. “Yes.” His voice was weaker than he thought it’d be and Harry’s hands tightened on his wrists for a moment and he made a soft noise and then let go, before finally diving down and pressing their lips together. Draco wound his arms around him, wand back in his sleeve, clinging, opening up for his probing tongue to meet it with his own.

It was everything their first kiss, a slow, languid, lazy exploration, hadn’t been - sloppy and urgent and Draco reveled in it, moaning into Harry’s mouth even as the stone dug into his back roughly. They broke apart a few moments later, breathing hard, grinning at each other. Harry rolled his hips into him, allowing Draco to feel his growing arousal. He moaned and pushed back, biting his lower lip, and then stopped again, regaining control over himself. Harry’s hands slid down to his buttocks and squeezed and then forced him up again into a repetition of his former movement.

Draco let out a little breathy laugh. “You really do enjoy being in control, don’t you?”

Harry grunted and leaned down and nipped at his chin, then his lip. “I enjoy having you like this.” He nosed Draco’s neck and then bit down hard enough to leave a mark.

Draco yelped and pushed at Harry’s shoulder, arousal and amusement mixing into a delicious cocktail. “Can we please not be doing this in the staff Floo room of the Ministry of Magic?”

Harry grinned against his skin and closed his teeth over his earlobe, then whispered. “Where would you rather be doing this?” There was a tinge of laughter in the roughness of his voice.

“Hmm,” Draco said and then moaned again, more loudly, when Harry’s hand quite suddenly brushed over his stiff cock. “Actually, I- ah- am still displeased over what happened.” He was part teasing, part truthful, but god- reason was hard to follow at the moment.

Harry let out a groan and then dropped his forehead against Draco’s shoulder, sliding his hand away from Draco’s front and back around again, squeezing lightly. “Playing the guilt card is foul, Draco,” he said when he straightened up and looked at him. His erection was still jutting into Draco’s hip and Draco found it hard to resist the urge to drop to his knees and unbutton Harry’s jeans.

He inhaled and then exhaled slowly and eased himself off Harry’s knee, reaching around to grab Harry’s hands and gently pull them away, still holding on. “I told you, Potter, I’m not easy.” He smirked a little, the look of need in Harry’s face almost justifying the regret he was already starting to feel for denying himself. He let go of Harry’s hands, but then stepped forward and slid his hands up his chest, regaining contact with him in control this time.

“That you did,” Harry said, voice thick, but he made no further motion to touch Draco.

“Will you Apparate me home?” Draco dug his fingers into Harry’s shoulder, waiting, trying hard not to look as excited as he felt.

“Yeah,” Harry replied, lips slightly parted which for the tiniest moment made it hard for Draco to focus.

“And behave?” he added, pushing his thumb into the side of Harry’s neck. It was, he knew, a dangerous game that he was playing, like badgering a wild animal.

But Harry nodded. “Yeah.”

“Good,” Draco said, and they were on his doorstep before he’d even finished the word. Harry’s arm wound around his waist while he disabled the safety charms, but he graciously did not count that as disregarding their agreement. They entered and to his surprise Harry let go of him, walking into the flat next to him without touching.

“Do you want me to leave?” Harry asked when Draco leaned against the wall to take off his shoes, wiggling his toes.

He took a while to consider the question, but then shook his head. “No.” He swallowed and looked up. “But I need to be up early tomorrow.”

Harry nodded, his face soft. “Me too, Draco. I have a Port at five thirty.”

“Oh, Merlin,” Draco groaned. “Then what were you doing at the Ministry at this hour?”

“I handed over a vampire that I caught in South London.” He grinned. “I was on duty, actually.”

“Very funny.” Draco pushed himself off the wall, catching himself on Harry’s arm. The touch sent a memory of their encounter through him, cock stiffening again, and he quickly looked away, feeling the color rising into his cheeks. “Stay over?” He felt the sudden need to not be alone, to have a sleeping body next to him, comfort and warmth. “To sleep,” he added, looking up at Harry from under his lashes.

“Your wish is my command.” Harry’s hand found the small of his back. “And actually, I’m completely drained. I wouldn’t be of much use.” It was such an intimate admittance and Draco blinked up at him, dumbstruck, as he was gently being stirred further into the flat.

There were a million biting things he could have said about Harry’s stamina, but all he could do was nod a little and agree. “Me too.”

“I’ll grab a quick shower, is that okay?” Harry stopped before the bedroom and Draco nodded again.

“Yes, just use the blue guest towels, they’re clean.” He watched, amazed, as Harry vanished into his bathroom, and then stepped into the bedroom, door not quite closed, and stripped down quickly, suddenly nervous. He sifted through the drawers of his dresser for a moment, then pulled on a fresh pair of briefs and after some thought a long soft cotton shirt as well. He felt the unusual need for decency, to be and look proper.

He charmed off the lights and crawled into bed, and had almost drifted off when Harry returned, smelling fresh and soapy and slid into bed with him, barely dry and cold legs pressing against Draco’s. He let out a sigh and buried his face against Draco’s neck, draping his arm over his chest, careless and familiar. It was not a sexual gesture at all and Draco felt a surge of contentment roll over him. He pressed back into the warm embrace, closing his eyes, and soon fell asleep with Harry’s steady breathing lulling him in.

***

Draco had a dream that night; sleeping with his back tightly against Harry’s chest, the warmth of their bodies mingling, Draco dreamed about eight spools of yarn.

These eight spools each held yarn of a different color. Each thread was made of thinly woven light and in his dream Draco was starkly aware of how valuable and rare these items were.

Draco was sitting and looking at them, amazed to have gained possession of such a thing, and then in one tiny thoughtless movement, he knocked them all over.

He screamed and tried catching them, but the damage was done. They began spilling the yarn from their bodies, round after round after round of shining material. Draco stared in horror as the threads began to entangle; they were moving on their own, uncontrolled and wild, falling into knots with each other, crossing and turning and winding.

He fell back on the ground, staring up as a picture began to form from the loose threads; with each winding round that added itself to the whole it became clearer to Draco.

And when it was done, he saw it.

***

Draco woke with a start, breathing hard and sweating, shaking, mind blank from the residue of a powerful dream. He was on his stomach, the sheets twisted around his legs and the sun was high on the sky outside; his bed was empty, but there was a distinct scent of fresh coffee lingering in the air, which made him roll over and stumble out of bed blindly.

Harry had put out a cup for him and put a perfect self-heating charm on the pot. He sat at the counter, sipping his coffee, eyes closed, a funny feeling in his stomach.

There was new mail on his counter and Draco stretched over it to fetch it, breaking the seal on a letter from Blaise with a frown. He scanned over it, not much said in too many words, how he was, how long he was staying, and put it down again, almost feeling guilty.

He remembered all of Harry now and none of Blaise; Harry’s touch, the feel of his skin, the curve of his mouth and the brush of his almost rough hands had burned themselves into Draco’s brain.

He took another sip of his coffee and then looked up, gaze falling on the old sketch of the curse, one of the very first he’d made, on the fridge. It was inaccurate and incomplete, but it made the gates to Draco’s subconsciousness open, spilling the memory of the dream of last night back into his mind with a force that made him gasp for breath.

His hands began shaking as he recalled the powerful images, wondering how he could ever have forgotten. He remembered it all so vividly, and the more he thought about it the more they came back to him in every minute detail.

He got up and showered, forcing himself to remember everything, every single knot, every single untangling round of yarn, every single thread. It built in his head, the image, just as it had in his dream, and he stumbled against the shower wall, shaking, clinging to slippery tile, desperation rising up in him like a fist to the gut.

***

Hermione sat at her desk, forehead against the triangle of her hands, staring down at the cherry wood. Her hair was spilling through her fingers, open and free, and her face was white as chalk. She had not said anything for quite a while, and when she did sit up again, Draco saw in her face that she still hadn't found any words.

All of us,” she finally breathed, unbelieving.

Draco nodded. There was not much more that he could say. He’d already said it all. Repeated some things, not quite able to believe the magnitude of the reach of the spell.

Draco showed her the full drawing of the curse again. Larger than life, on a piece of parchment hanging over the edges of her desk. He unrolled it and pointed, tracing the lines.

“Eight threads,” he said, “trigger, counter, loop, origin, effect, target. These we all know.” He swallowed and moved to the last two, the most intricate of all the threads. “Another target. And a failsafe.”

Hermione stared, still disbelieving. “How is that even possible, Draco?”

“It’s the loop. See?” He pointed. “My father bound the second target thread to the loop.” He did not have to repeat what the thread defined as targets: every person they loved and cared about. “Every time the counter resets, the loop triggers the second target thread. The more loops are active, the more often it will get triggered.” He closed his eyes.

“I don’t know for how long the blocks will hold. And it doesn’t matter, as long as the original loop keeps going there will be another victim every eleven days.”

Hermione looked up at him. “If we hadn’t bound it so early-”

Draco nodded. “Yes. The number of victims would have grown exponentially with each subsequent loop.” He stopped, almost not able to say more. “It could be anyone, each and every one of us. Here, where everyone is so close- where people are friends rather than simply coworkers-” He shook his head, not wanting to continue, and traced another line. “The failsafe is bound to the second target directly, no loop required. Here.” He swallowed, tracing again the thread that doomed friends, family and lovers of the victims of the spell. “Hermione, if I mess this up-”

He did not need to finish his sentence. The weight of the world was on his shoulders, as the curse measured out their days and nights.

***

He felt empty when he returned home for the day; his flat was empty, his days were numbered. Even if he was going to be one of the last to be hit, considering he had fewer relationships within the department and the Ministry, there were others that he’d learned to care about in his time here, whom he did not want to see as unmoving bodies, requiring life support charms. It was he realized as he lay down on his couch and curled up, the true evil of the curse.

His father had, this time, truly outdone himself this time. He wondered if the curse had been meant to be placed somewhere crowded. It was in a movable container, to be triggered by one with Muggle or Mudblood connection so it would spread death and terror amongst Dumbledore's followers. Draco doubted that it had been something the Dark Lord had thought up - it was too subtle, too indirect. There wasn’t enough blood and killings and screaming. This was terror of another kind.

He pressed his face into a pillow and inhaled the stale, deoxygenated air until his head had calmed down a little. He felt haunted; it was as though his father had never even gone to Azkaban to receive the Kiss. This here, this horrific curse, allowed him to rule over them and rule over Draco even after his death.

He let out a shuddery breath, feeling sick; it was almost as though his father had left this for him. A last present, a reminder for Draco so he would never forget who was in charge and who was not.

He found himself unable to eat, desperately wishing he wasn’t alone. But Harry had not shown up at the Ministry today, and had made no comment on when he would be returning.

Draco felt, to his own surprise, selfish: horridly, terribly selfish for wanting comfort for himself when all else was falling apart.

***

Draco found Pansy and Seamus in Hermione’s office the next day; they were holding hands, talking quietly to her, and when he entered, Pansy sprung up and flung herself around his neck, holding onto him tightly. He felt in her stance and the way she tensed under him, that she had or was close to crying.

Seamus got up and rubbed her back even as she pried herself away from Draco. Her eyes were swollen, but her voice was steady, almost calm.

“Seamus told me everything, Draco,” she said and leaned against Seamus, holding on.

“We decided it wasn’t a good time for a celebration,” she continued. “I called the wedding off.”

“What?” Draco felt his eyes widen and shook his head. “You can’t!”

“I can, and I will,” Pansy replied stubbornly.

Seamus visibly sighed. “There will be a small ceremony in London instead. Next week on Saturday.” He caught Draco’s gaze. “And then, when we’re all safe and sound, we’ll have an Irish wedding for a week straight.”

There again, in the way they both looked at him, lay the expectation that he would save them. It made him almost crumble to his knees, made him want to bolt and run. He wondered, how Harry had been able to deal with this. With the wide eyes and the pressure and the knowledge that in your hands not only the life of one or two rested, but that of an entire generation of people or more.

It was terrifying. He stared at them, hands helplessly at his side, and did not know what to say. He did not know how to break it, not yet anyhow.

Hermione came around her desk and carefully slid past Seamus, touching Draco’s arm. “Draco,” she said softly, “there’s something in the library that I need to show you.”

He nodded absently, stomach wanting to turn itself inside out. Hermione gently pushed and pushed until he was out the door, where his hands started shaking so violently that he had to stop and lean against the wall for a full minute until he had calmed down again.

Even though he was not cursed yet, a bane had still found him: his father’s ghost infesting his very thoughts until he could not think straight anymore from fear.

***

It hit Anthony Goldstein next; he fell over, unconscious, in the middle of a report to the Minister, hand still clutching his notes which he would barely let go of when Draco and Hermione and two medi-wizards came storming through the fireplace within a minute of the release of the emergency signal.

They brought him to St. Mungo’s where Draco bound a knot in the loop, hands shaking so badly, he almost set off a chain reaction. Afterwards he sat by Goldstein’s bed, watching him to make sure the block actually held, all of a sudden not trusting his own knowledge and abilities anymore.

People came and went, visitors, loved ones, leaving flowers; they gave Draco the same kind of look as they gave poor Anthony Goldstein, and finally, when dusk began to set, Draco managed to tear himself away, stumbling outside into the hallway.

Harry was sitting in one of the chairs, reading a report and Draco felt a kind of fury rise up within him that he hadn’t felt since Hogwarts. It was cold and raging and vengeful; uncontrolled and mean.

He stomped up to Harry and ripped the report from his hands, violently tossing it to the floor, unable to stop himself.

Harry looked up surprised and shook his head, then got up, reaching out for him, offering a kind of comfort Draco did not want or need right now.

“Where have you been?” he hissed. “Where the bloody hell have you been?” He felt his insides convulse, desperation and fear and everything else spilling out into his words. “Do you even know what we’ve been going through here?”

Harry stared at him, face open and surprised, until his brows knitted together in a deep frown. “I was on a mission, Draco. And of course I do.” His voice became louder. “Why do you think I’m here?”

Draco pushed at him and almost made him stumble over a chair, against the wall. He needed to hit something, someone; he needed someone so desperately and Harry had the nerve to show up now that he felt lost already.

“I don’t bloody know,” he bit out and raised his hand, but Harry caught him by the wrist, twisting, until Draco whimpered and tried to back away. Yet it only fueled the fire. “I don’t know anything anymore,” he continued forcefully, voice breaking as he was almost yelling now. “And you just vanish off somewhere- how-” He shook his head, bile rising up in his throat. “I needed you a week ago, what were you thinking-”

Harry’s grip on him suddenly relaxed and then Draco gave in and huddled close, fastening his arms around Harry’s waist, holding on, embarrassed and angry and desperate. Harry was warm and Draco felt it spread out into his own hospital-cooled limbs, calming, until his heart and head had come down a little.

“I’m sorry,” came Harry’s quiet voice after a while. “I had to go.” His hand found Draco’s back, trailing soothing circles.

“I can’t do this,” Draco squeezed out. “I can’t fucking do this. If I fail-” It was almost as though he’d been drained; all the tension eased out of him, all that he had not been able to say. “I’m bloody scared, Harry.”

“I know,” Harry said quietly and pulled him closer. “Me too.” He smelled like moss and rain, fresh from the forest. It made Draco’s head spin. “You need to believe in yourself.”

Draco shook his head and let out a humorless laugh. “I don’t know how you do it.”

It was answered by an equally empty laugh. “Neither do I,” Harry said.

***

Harry took him home that night and made him sit on the couch in front of the blazing fire, wrapped in a blanket and in pajamas, with a gigantic glass of wine while he cut spices and tomatoes and cooked pasta and blended it all together, the sounds of cooking from the kitchen soothing Draco’s nerves.

They had dinner together, sitting cross-legged on the couch, a blanket draped loosely over both their shoulders.

Eventually, Harry put down his empty plate and leaned back, stretching his arms over the upholstery, his hand finding Draco’s neck and rubbing gently.

“You need a telly,” he said, eyes closed.

Draco shrugged and finished his plate of pasta, putting it next to Harry’s. “We have one in the common room in Le Lavandou. One of the Muggleborn nurses bought it. She says it’s good distraction for the kids. I’m not quite sure it’s the kind of entertainment they’re supposed to be getting. They lose touch with their magic.”

Harry hummed; he was visibly relaxed, eyes still closed. Draco stared at the line of his chin and neck and throat, descending to his collarbone, revealed by the loosened shirt he was wearing. He was, even objectively speaking, a handsome man with pleasant, strong features and his dark unruly shock of hair. There was a slight curve to his lips, despite everything, and Draco leaned over, hand on Harry’s thigh, and kissed his neck softly.

The fingers on Draco’s nape tightened a little and Harry gently guided him up, meeting his mouth. He tasted like basil and tomatoes, salt and red wine. Draco scooted a little closer, letting Harry control the kiss, letting Harry’s hand on his neck hold him there and move him at his will. Harry drew back after a while, pulling Draco closer, turning him a little so he had to sit up and kneel on the sofa.

Harry’s eyes were dark, but his face was calm; he shifted his hand, splaying it out over Draco’s shoulder and pushed. Draco reached up and steadied himself against his arm, sliding to the floor, mind racing, cock twitching. He kneeled down and Harry unfolded his legs, shifting forward a little.

Draco looked up at him and slid his hands up his thighs, waiting, teasing. Harry raised his hips again and cocked a brow at Draco. It sent shivers down his spine, making his cock stir. In any other situation, with any other man Draco would have challenged the dominance, would have begun a match of wits. But here with Harry it was futile. He would not give up control to Draco, and Draco didn't want him to.

He leaned over, almost obediently, and unfastened Harry’s fly. He was half-hard already; Draco reached inside and pulled down his briefs to expose his cock, letting out a long breath, mouth watering. He looked up to catch Harry staring at him and locked their eyes as he leaned down and licked the tip of his erection, a heady scent filling his nose, making his head spin.

Harry reached down, pushing his fingers into Draco’s hair, holding and pulling slightly. He scooted closer and squeezed one hand into Harry’s trousers to fondle his balls and closed the other around the base of his shaft. He sank down as far as he could go, breathing hard through his nose and then pulled back, rubbing down hard with his hand at the same time.

Harry groaned and jerked his hips up and Draco repeated the motion, finding a steady rhythm of sucking up and pushing his hand down and sucking him in again, hand moving up to meet his lips. The movements became easier as saliva and precome spread over Harry’s cock, slicking his mouth and hand, making wet noises. He felt Harry’s blood pump through him, hot and fast, and then Harry suddenly reached out and pried Draco’s hands away. Draco blinked up surprised, but didn’t stop moving his mouth, trying to take him deeper, hands at his side.

“Can you take it?” Harry said roughly and groaned and pushed a hand into Draco’s hair again to stop him from moving.

Ah, Draco thought, and felt his own cock twitch in anticipation. He tilted his chin and relaxed his throat, eyes watering as Harry pushed further in. Their eyes were still locked and Harry’s lips were parted when he began moving slowly, tiny thrusts at first. Draco held still, moaning around his cock, trying not to choke.

Harry seemed satisfied with his reaction and began to speed up, grunting with each thrust, going deeper, and Draco squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating, Harry’s cock brushing the back of his throat. He reached down and started rubbing himself, unable to resist, moaning and whimpering as Harry thrust in deep one last time and came down his throat with a low rough moan.

He pulled out and Draco opened his eyes again, lips parted and wet and stinging when Harry dragged his thumb over his lower lip and Draco rubbed himself harder, whining desperately.

“Come up here,” Harry said and Draco obeyed, climbing into his lap, thighs spread. They kissed, sharing saliva and fluids, and Harry’s hand found his erection through the fabric of his pajama pants, squeezing.

“You like that. A little rough play, huh?” It wasn’t really a question, but Draco nodded anyway, helplessly thrusting into his hand.

“Yes- yes-” he breathed, trying to get closer. Harry slipped his hand past the waistband of his pants, fingers closing around his erection, stroking him fast and rough. Draco whimpered and began rubbing against him, feeling Harry’s other hand wander down his back to his buttocks, squeezing.

It made his erection twitch and he almost came, groaning Harry’s name. “Oh god, Harry-”

A low chuckle and Harry pressed his nose to his neck and bit down gently. “I see-” He pushed down Draco’s pajamas and started fondling his arse cheeks again, his hands rough, then pulled away suddenly. Draco almost complained but then fingers probed at his mouth and he took them in sucking and licking and getting them wet, his own hands digging into Harry’s shoulders. Harry’s hand on his cock sped up, making him shiver, and then the fingers drew back and found his cleft, teasing and ghosting over his hole.

“Fuck-” He pushed against them, wanting more, and Harry complied, worming one inside him and then another, making Draco’s eyes roll back in his head as he rode against them. He didn’t know how to move anymore, wanting both, but then found a rhythm, hips pulsing while Harry started moving his fingers, allowing Draco to rut into his hand.

They filled him but left him aching for more, and he grit his teeth and heard himself beg, “More- fuck me-”

Harry moaned loudly and pushed in another finger, pushed them deeper until Draco felt his body clench, warmth spreading through him in a wave as he came, spilling onto Potter’s shirt and fingers.

He collapsed against him, breathing hard and winced when Harry withdrew. They kissed again, out of breath and sweaty, and Draco reached behind and pulled his pajamas up.

“Better?” Harry asked, hands on his hips, squeezing lightly and Draco nodded, surprised. He felt less tense, less anxious, his blood swarming with endorphins.

He pressed a kiss to the corner of Harry’s mouth. “Much.”

“Still mad at me?” Harry sounded earnest and Draco shook his head, then dropped it on Harry’s shoulder. “Good.”

After a few moments of post-coital, dirty snuggling, Draco mumbled, “How would you feel about taking a shower, Potter?”

“Very positive,” Harry chuckled and sat them both up, then tucked himself in. Draco felt as disheveled as Harry looked and about twice as tired.

They took a shower together, washing each other gently, kissing playfully; Draco felt seventeen and that the world was right, and when they were done drying each other off and climbed into bed together, he was filled with a sudden faith that things would work out, Harry's hands stroking his back gently.

He pressed against Harry, head on his arm, and fell into a sleep without dreams or disturbance.

***

Waking up next to Harry Potter was odd; he looked defenseless and soft in his sleep, hair tousled and Draco watched him for a while, fascinated, and then slid out of bed to make coffee. It was barely seven, but Draco hadn’t woken once and felt well rested. He sat at the island counter, sipping his coffee and looking at the gigantic drawing of the curse for the first time since he’d brought it to Hermione’s office.

There was an underlying sense of fear, echoing inside him, but the panic and paralysis from the past few days had gone. He wondered, finishing his cup and conjuring another with the flick of his wand, if Harry had worked some magic on him, had used some strange, subtle charm to subdue him.

He traced the lines on the parchment, frowning, feeling a grim determination. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he might have been wrong in his initial assumption that his father had meant to spread the curse among Muggles and wizards alike in an act of terrorism. This felt more personal - a legacy, something to remember him by when he had long gone.

That in mind, Draco began looking for a specific knot in the basic construct and then found it, bound to Lucius’ and Narcissa’s heartbeat even over a distance, a small, unimposing trigger to arm the curse. What seemed almost romantic at first glance, sent a chill down Draco’s spine. His father was not dead technically, and at the time that he’d rigged and hidden the cursed box, he must’ve Marked Draco already and implemented the failsafe that had eventually lead to his mother’s death. This, clearly, had armed the curse. It was a sickening concept that his father had planned that far ahead, counting on Draco’s betrayal. He buried his head in his hands for a moment, but managed to fight down the feeling of desperation that was threatening to worm its way back into his insides, focusing on the spell again instead.

It was blood-bound, the entire string of it, Draco realized as he looked closer and recalled it from memory at the same time. It reminded him of something that he’d once seen in one of the books in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts and then again later when researching in the library in Le Lavandou.

Old blood magic, he thought. He shook his head, both horrified and fascinated. He had never seen it in action - it was such a taboo and even now he wasn’t sure that it truly was what it looked like. He wasn’t sure that his father would have gone that far. He felt his lips tighten, but instead of another flash from the past, all he felt was the intent to pick this thing apart until it stopped functioning.

There were slow steps behind him and Draco perked up a little and turned, watching Harry pad towards him, blinking sleepily. He did not look very awake and Draco forced a smile and did not protest when Harry wound his arms around his waist, chest to Draco’s back, and propped his chin on Draco’s shoulder, making an animalistic sound of affection and pleasure, akin to a purr. It put his mind off things a little, made him strangely relaxed.

“Did you put a spell on me, Harry?” Draco asked and reached up, rubbing Harry’s arm.

Harry made a noise of disapproval, pressing his mouth to Draco’s skin. When he did finally answer, his voice was low and a little rough. It sent a sense of wonder through Draco that he now knew what Harry Potter sounded like at seven in the morning. “Did you put one on me?” A low, tired laugh. “I don’t usually wake at seven in the morning, Draco. Are you a morning person?”

“I don’t like dawdling around,” Draco said and leaned back against him.

“Not even in bed?”

Draco huffed in faux-annoyance, distracted from the sketch before him. “Idiot.”

“You like it,” Harry said and bit his neck.

“I need to work,” Draco insisted. “I need to go to the Ministry and meet Hermione and save people. You should be all too familiar with that.” He was not teasing; he had to tell her about the blood magic underlying the curse; he felt it was something essential, something that would lead to somewhere from where they could truly start breaking it down.

Harry grunted and let go of his waist. “I’m off duty today,” he said. “I’ll just go back to bed then.” He looked mildly disappointed, if not a little grumpy.

Draco reached out for him and took his hand and pressed his lips softly against it. “Sorry?”

“Oh, don’t apologize,” Harry said with a sly grin, “I’ll make sure you make it up to me later.”

Draco blushed despite himself, rather certain that he would not mind that at all.

***

As it turned out, Draco had been spot on with his observation of the blood magic.

It was not his metier, so he had not been sure how it all fit together to form a working curse in the end, but Hermione had listened to his ramblings, focused and unmoving, and then jotted down a quick note that took off on its own as soon as she’d folded it.

A cup of tea and a few biscuits later, the co-worker Hermione had called in, pushed the door open without knocking and fell heavily into the armchair next to Draco’s without as much as saying hello to either of them. It was Mad-Eye Moody, and he looked even madder than the last time Draco had seen him. His magical eye had stopped bearing any kind of resemblance to an ordinary human eye, now a black globe that whirred slightly.

Draco stared at him, instinctively scooting into the farthest corner of his armchair. The spells around Moody’s eye were wound tightly and intricately and vanished into his skull. It looked arcane and dark and made Draco shiver a little.

“What, boy?” Moody barked. “When you’re done starin’, send me a note.” He turned to Hermione and spoke to her as if Draco wasn’t here. “That kid, Granger. He never changes.”

Draco was torn between offense and bemusement, and then settled for the latter, shaking his head. Moody was without a doubt the best person Hermione could have asked for help and somewhere in the back of his head Draco did wonder why she hadn’t done so before or why he hadn’t suggested it himself, but Moody was also old and gruff and Draco all too well remembered the feeling of being a small, writhing animal that had been linked to Moody’s exterior in his memories.

“Blood magic, you say?” Moody said and Draco nodded even though he had not been addressed. He dug into his charmed bag and pulled the large layout of the curse from it, fighting a little with the parchment when he tried to roll it out on Hermione’s desk.

Moody hummed and huffed, his magical eye making the oddest sounds. Finally, he said, “So, that’s what you kids’ve been workin’ on these days, huh?”

Draco frowned at that and caught Hermione’s eyes. “I’m here to break it. It’s harming people, and it’s designed to hurt us all in the end.”

“Don’t go ‘round lecturing me, boy,” Moody yelped and Draco bit his lip, shrinking back into his chair as Moody turned around and fixed both his eyes on him. He could feel the magic radiating from one half of his body, keeping him alive, keeping him together. It was uncanny.

“Ah.” Moody laughed and it sounded like a storm rattling a loose fence. “The Malfoy youngling a Mageioptes? Brilliant.” He leaned closer and Draco forced himself to stay still as the proximity revealed tiny charms spreading like a net all over the right side of Moody’s body. Some of the magic he could make out wiggling over his skin there was Dark, if not Unclassified.

“Do you see it, young Malfoy?” Moody asked. “All that holds me together. It’s what your people did to me.”

Draco looked up sharply and met his eyes, hearing Hermione draw in a quick breath. “They’re not my people, Moody,” he said. He reached out and drew back the long sleeve of his V-neck, exposing the white, unmarred skin of his right arm. He knew Moody was aware of what had happened; the letter that had informed Draco of his mother’s death after he’d woken in Le Lavandou had been signed by him, her body found by one of his squads.

Moody reached out with his good hand and gripped Draco’s arm, fingers digging into his skin, rough and unpleasant. He turned Draco’s arm around, inspecting it with his magical eye, a look of interest on his face. “There are no traces,” he concluded finally. “That’s quite a feat.” He dug his thumb in, dragging his nail over Draco’s skin, leaving a red mark, as if to see if there was anything to scrape away, and then finally let go. “You got a rare talent, boy. Don’t waste it.”

Draco glared back at him, heart racing with anger. “I never have and I don’t plan to in the future and as you can see I am most certainly not wasting it now.” He let his open hand fall flat on the parchment on Hermione’s desk, irritated.

“I believe there is blood magic in the curse my- Lucius left behind,” he stated, hoping to draw Moody’s attention once and for all back to the matter at hand. It worked - Moody turned and started scanning the parchment again, nodding.

“Why didn’t you call Bill in on this one right away?” he asked Hermione after a while.

Draco cocked a brow, curious for her answer, which came a second later with a sigh. “I am in contact with him, but he’s currently unavailable. He recommended I contact Draco, because he thought he would not be much help himself anyway.”

Moody nodded, but did not comment, and Draco blinked and glanced at Hermione. This was news to him, too. He hadn’t known that she’d been in contact with Bill Weasley and it did gnaw at his pride a little.

Moody stood up and started pacing, his good eye on the wall, while his magical eye stayed fixed on the parchment on the desk regardless of where he moved; Draco bit his tongue and schooled himself in patience, fingers on the arm of his chair, tapping. Finally, Moody nodded again.

“It’s the worst kind of blood magic, too,” he said, hunching over on the table, squinting. “Old. It festers in a spell and never lets it go.”

Draco nodded. He’d expected as much. “I suppose this also accounts for the unusual stability of it?” He met Moody’s eyes, holding his gaze bravely. “The amount of threads alone should make it fall apart after one or maybe two repeats.”

Moody made an approving sound and moved closer again, leaning heavily on his walking stick. “Damn straight. Magic is not supposed to be forever, yet here-” He pointed at the sketched curse. “-there is no end knot. It just loops back into itself.” He shook his head and looked at Draco as though he personally had offended him. “This not only diabolic, but also unnatural.”

Draco listened silently, remembering all the times his father had told him that they were here to control the magic and bend it at their will and not vice versa. That the purpose of the wizarding blood was to reign over what nature could not contain, to create order where chaos prevailed. The thought had appealed to Draco at first - being twelve and never in control of anything, not his own life, his clothes, his friends - but as he had grown older and begun to understand the nature of magic, begun to understand his gift when it became apparent, his father’s foolishness had started showing beneath his perfect facade.

“How do I- how do we break it, then?”

“Let me see it,” Moody said and Draco gave him a surprised look and tilted his head.

“What?” Moody barked, glaring. “You think you’re the only one?” He raised one hand and pointed at his magical eye. “But I did pay a higher price for it than you.”

Hermione interrupted them by getting up and shooing Moody to the door gently, with Draco padding behind slowly, fuming silently.

“Granger, finally you got a chance to drag me to that dreaded cellar of yours. Aren’t you glad?” He laughed heartily and Hermione looked back, giving Draco a little smile as if to calm him. It did not work. Draco glared at her and looked away, but followed them into the third lift, where Hermione pulled out her wand and whispered a string of archaic words under her breath until they started moving down.

They arrived with a soft ding and began their march through the endless, winding corridors, Moody’s false leg clinking against the hard stone floors with every step, until they reached the chamber and Hermione put down the wards.

Moody let out a low whistle when they stepped into the observation room, immediately hobbling over to the window. Draco could see the magical gears in his head spin and turn as his eye drew power.

Draco pushed past the table to stand next to him, looking down at the curse. It was the first time he was actually looking at it again after realizing its true nature. The first time since he’d realized how cruel his father had actually been.

“Malfoy blood,” Moody said after a while, magical eye rolling to the side to look at Draco.

“What?” Draco asked dumbly.

“Malfoy blood. Can’t see it?” He pointed, but at nothing specific. “It’s right there. Could’ve etched your family sigil in, would’ve been just as obvious.” Draco looked, really looked, and there it was. He grit his teeth, shaking his head, overcome.

It was a true heritage, this curse. A legacy in blood. The last thing that remained of the grand Pureblood family Malfoy. It was bound to his name, to his blood; the blood from which it drew power.

“This is-” Hermione breathed and Draco nodded.

“It’s using me as a source,” he said and let out a little laugh. “Lucius used Malfoy blood to bind it all together. Hell, he probably used my blood to bind it all together.” He remembered his father had always carried a charmed vial of it with him on a chain around his neck, saying it held the family together, that it meant that Draco would always be with him wherever he was. Now the curse meant that something of his father’s had always been with Draco since its activation after his mother’s death. He felt his eyebrows knit together, grim and determined not to let the horrific feeling of fear overpower him again. “But that also means there’s a loophole.”

“A loophole?” Hermione squinted at him and then her face fell as she realized what he was saying. She started shaking her head, but Draco cut her off before she could say anything.

“I need to die,” he said calmly and put his hand against the glass of the window shielding them from the magic.

“Draco,” Hermione gasped and even Moody made a noise that sounded like protest. Draco sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

“Not literally,” he elaborated. “But it needs to think I did. I need to make it real.” He didn’t look at either of them, even as they started telling him that he was insane, that whatever he was thinking about it was far too dangerous.

Draco knew, though, that any alternative was better than allowing his father to win. Again.

***

When he stepped out of the fireplace into his flat, it was empty. Harry had cleaned the dishes and rearranged the disheveled sofa, but he’d long left. His presence still lingered in the air - Draco could feel it now, hypersensitive and hyperaware to it, having felt it so close - but it was faint and fading.

Draco wandered over to the fridge and arranged some leftover pasta on a plate, heating it with a spell, then sat down at the island counter to eat. It reminded him of Harry in the kitchen and Harry’s hands on his skin, his easy laugh and the way things stopped mattering too much when he was around Draco.

It was ridiculous that amidst the chaos inside of him, the most apparent emotion was the loss and emptiness he felt about finding a deserted flat. For the first time in years he felt lonely; it was worse now that somebody had reminded him of what it felt like not to be alone. It left him with a distinct ache, magnified by what he was about to attempt in the following days.

He finished his dinner and put the plate in the sink. It wasn’t late yet, and for a moment Draco considered going to bed early or reading a book, but found that his mind was muddled with different thoughts and emotions that would make any attempt at sleep or concentration futile.

He grabbed his coat again and grabbed some Floo powder, tossing it into the flames of his fireplace, calling the address. A tumble of flashing fires and racing grates took him to a grand hall out of which he stepped into a large rather well lit atrium filled with urns and statues.

It was only the second time he’d been here - once before, shortly after his mother had died and he had had to return to London to identify the body - and yet his feet still found their way around the statues and urns on their own.

In close vicinity to the large tree in the middle of the atrium, Draco found Severus’ grave and sat down in the grass next to it, crossing his legs. It would be dark soon, but the magical sunlight that filled the room never ceased. There were others here too - friends, teachers, distant relatives, all of whom had died in the throes of a war that bled violence into their reality even now.

He leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, feeling oddly serene. He remembered the last time he’d seen Severus, handing him a small, chipped mother-of-pearl button and the world had started spinning and shifting and turning with the force of the Portkey that would take Draco to France and to a library full of books in Le Lavandou to teach him how to break one of the most powerful marking spells in the history of magic.

It was now and here that Draco realized how much he’d had to leave behind that day; not only his mother, but proper goodbyes, absolutions and friendships.

***

Draco wore the only dress robes he’d not banished from his wardrobe to Pansy’s wedding; they were heavy, brocade and silk in a deep dusty jade that matched his eyes. He was tired from yet another night of heavy research, burying into books about blood magic and ancient dark potions, but he spelled away the rings under his eyes and smoothed back his hair into a messy imitation of the hairdo he used to be so fond of as a child, having thought back then that it would make him look more grown up.

Staring at himself in the mirror before he left, Draco had realized it did just the opposite - it made him look younger, his face soft, eyes wide.

There were few guests present - only Seamus’ and Pansy’s closest friends and coworkers, most of whom Draco knew. There was a divide, almost like back in Potions class, and the Aurors sat together, whispering quietly as Kingsley Shacklebolt read the Eternal Vows to Seamus and Pansy Finnigan née Parkinson, standing beneath an arch of rosewood and blue hyacinths.

Blaise had spotted Draco the moment he’d stepped from the fireplace and Draco, glancing over at Harry who was busy talking to Kingsley and Ron and one of the twins before the ceremony had started, had latched onto him, feeling almost guilty. Harry looked relaxed and happy and good in finely tailored dark blue dress robes, laughing with his friends, a glass of mead in his hand. Draco hadn’t dared interrupt. It made his heart tie itself into a knot and he had turned away and was glad when they were shooed to sit down by Hermione.

Pansy looked stunning, of course, and she and Seamus kissed so long that Kingsley had to tap their shoulders to remind them to say the last words of the Vow, and after they kissed even longer, receiving cheers and catcalls from the audience. It was lovely and Draco laughed and hollered and barely even noticed Blaise’s hand on his thigh before it vanished again.

Afterwards they all gathered together at a large table that was burdened heavily with food and drink of all kinds. It made Draco’s mouth water and he realized that he hadn’t properly eaten in too long a time. He sat with Blaise and Millicent and they shared old school memories, laughed at long forgotten stories about teachers. Harry was sitting with Seamus at the head of the table, talking animatedly to Ginny Weasley who was waving her glass at him after he’d said something. They burst out laughing and Harry looked up straight at Draco, who averted his gaze quickly not wanting to be caught observing. He involved himself in the conversation with Blaise and Millicent again, allowing Blaise to lean in a little closer than strictly necessary to talk to him, and soon he was distracted enough to not notice that Millicent had gotten up after a while, making space for Harry to sit down next to Draco.

Draco looked up from his wine and his goose and licked gravy off his thumb, eyes wide.

“Hi,” Harry said and smiled at him. “Good food, huh?”

Draco felt the corner of his mouth twitch and then nodded slowly. “It’s not horrible,” he said slowly.

Harry snorted and gave him a look and Draco reached for his wineglass. He didn’t know what he’d expected. Kissing in front of the wedding party? He took a deep sip and avoided Harry’s eyes. Blaise was watching him, too, and Draco felt uncomfortable and disgruntled by the situation.

“I can never quite remember the meaning of the hyacinth at wizard weddings,” Harry threw in after a while, leaning back in his chair, apparently well-fed and happy.

Draco hmphed and took another bite of his spiced apple then gingerly put down his fork. “It’s continuity, Potter. Wizards tend to bond for life.”

Harry chuckled a little and shrugged. “They used to. Nothing’s as it was before.” He looked at Draco long and intensely and then reached for his whiskey glass. Draco wanted to say something about Harry and alcohol but bit his tongue.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Blaise chimed in. “Divorce rates are really low in, you know, comparison.”

Draco looked at him and then back at Harry, slinking down into his chair a little.

“In comparison? Oh, you mean if you don’t count all the ‘mysteriously vanished’ and ‘accidental Splinching’ cases, then I suppose so.” Harry took another sip from his drink and raised his chin, challenging. “Though, I suppose you might call those the wizard way of divorcing.”

Oh god, Draco thought and wanted nothing more than get out. It was an absurd discussion and Draco thought it was futile and silly. Raising his wineglass again he said as much, without looking at either of them.

“Draco, come on,” Blaise protested. “Support me a little here.” He turned in his chair and his leg bumped into Draco’s and then his hand was on Draco’s thigh as he leaned over him to continue his argument with Harry. “I don’t have the statistics here now, obviously, Potter, but they do really speak for themselves.”

Draco froze, suddenly uncomfortably aware of the warmth of Blaise’s hand and Harry’s wild stare, flicking between Draco’s face and Blaise’s fingers digging into his thigh. He shifted a little and put his wineglass down onto the table again and pushed Blaise’s hand off. It was not graceful or subtle or even considerate. It was a statement and Draco felt his heart start racing.

He got up and brushed crumbs off his robes even though there weren’t any. He knew that his face was bright red and that itself embarrassed him even more. “Excuse me,” he heard himself say and then stalked off, leaving the hall into the corridor to lean against the cool wall. His head was pounding with the force of the blood surging through it. He’d been so convinced that Harry had not been paying attention to him, to them, but it was starkly apparent that he had been wrong. Draco felt like a fool.

The door opened and Draco looked up, hoping to see Harry’s messy head peek out, but it was Blaise who looked more than a little irked. He leaned against the wall opposite to Draco and stared mutely for what felt like an eternity. Draco stared back, lips set into a tight line.

“Harry Potter, huh?” Blaise finally said and Draco felt his cheeks flush again. “I should’ve known when you stopped replying to my letters again.”

Draco closed his eyes and sighed. “Blaise-”

“Don’t,” Blaise said and it sounded more hurt than Draco had expected him to be. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You didn’t come back for me, I know that.”

“No,” Draco said quietly and hung his head. “I didn’t.” He shrugged a little. “I didn’t plan- It just happened.” He couldn’t believe he was having this talk with Blaise at Pansy’s wedding. He felt like the most horrifying person in the world. He ought to have told Blaise before, or at least let him know that there was nothing to hope for, nothing to gain.

“I don’t care,” Blaise said. “I can’t believe you’re fucking Harry Potter of all people. You yourself told me how shite he was when you arrived here to help. Seriously, Draco.” Blaise kicked the wall with his heel and Draco looked up to meet his eyes. He had nothing to say to that, he had no words to explain and had he had them they would’ve been useless.

“I thought I loved you,” Blaise admitted quietly. “I really did. Back then.”

“We were children,” Draco protested.

“Still.” Blaise sounded defiant, challenging. Draco didn’t want to fight anymore. Blaise was, despite everything, his friend.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I am. I am sorry for misleading you. For inviting you to my bed when I should’ve considered- considered you more.” He swallowed and waited, but Blaise just shook his head.

“Whatever, Draco,” he said and pushed himself off the wall. “I’m done with this now, thank god. That much you did right.” He opened the door again and vanished back into the hall where music and the sounds of celebrations were coming from.

Draco dropped his head back against the wall, inhaled, exhaled, and then steeled himself for a night of celebration. He would not ruin this day for Pansy. He’d get drunk and sit with the others and laugh and cheer and then go home when Seamus and Pansy thought it fit.

***

Harry Apparated them home at the end of the night, both tired and worn and Draco almost sober again. Draco had his head against his chest, breathing softly, but Harry’s warmth was not as welcoming as usual. They’d barely spoken as the party progressed and Harry had huddled off with the Weasleys, leaving Draco to Millicent. After the argument with Blaise it was the grandest disappointment.

Harry gently dissolved their contact, taking off his shoes. Draco followed suit, both of them completely silent. He padded into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water, feeling Harry’s heavy stare on him.

“What?” he finally asked and turned to see Harry leafing through his opened mail that was still on the island counter, singling out letters from Blaise. His green eyes were dark behind his glasses, face hidden in the shadows of the barely lit flat. Draco backed up against the kitchen counter, clutching his glass.

“Why are you so cross with me?”

Harry rolled his shoulders, tapped his hand against the counter and said, “Would you have gone home with Blaise today, Draco?”

Draco blinked, wildly confused, and then shook his head. “What, no, what are you talking about?” He thought he’d made it clear, had made an obvious statement of where he wanted to be with whom.

Harry rounded the island counter and leaned against it, opposite from Draco, his arms crossed. He didn’t seem satisfied with Draco’s answer and tilted his chin at him as if he was waiting for something else, but Draco stayed quiet. Eventually, Harry elaborated, “I stopped by Thursday night because I thought we could have dinner together.”

Ah, Draco thought, he had been absent until late that night, rearranging and ordering his thoughts at the atrium. “Okay?”

“You weren’t here,” Harry concluded.

“No,” Draco said, realizing what Harry was playing at and understanding the implications of what was being left unsaid. It made him want to bolt. He looked down, fumbling with one of the ornate buttons on his robes, uncomfortable. There were two ways to go about this and he didn’t know which one to choose. “I was at the atrium,” he said after a silence that had become more than slightly overwhelming.

Harry made a sound of surprise but Draco didn’t raise his eyes to look at him. “Oh.”

He also didn’t want to explore this any further; most things between them until now had been easy and natural, uncomplicated. Not only did he not want to spoil it, but this half-hearted discussion of the issue was already enough to make him feel cornered.

“Alright,” Harry said then, sounding defeated. “I’m sorry if this was intrusive, I had no right.”

Draco didn’t comment, but he did look up. He took another sip of his water, needing something to do and keep his mouth occupied.

“I think I should retire for the night,” he declared after a moment and pushed himself away from the counter. “There is more work waiting for me tomorrow.” He didn’t want to spend yet another night alone, but the thought of sleeping next to Harry with so many things left unsaid was not something he was particularly keen on.

Harry must’ve sensed his sentiment, because he grabbed Draco’s arm just as he was walking by, fingers digging in sharply. “Work,” Harry said quietly, looking as though he’d just remembered something, and for a moment Draco thought he was implying yet again that Draco was still sleeping with Blaise, but he quickly continued, “I met Hermione yesterday. She told me everything.” Draco squinted before realization dawned on him, but Harry was apparently not done yet. “When were you going to tell me?”

Draco shrugged, but made no attempt to shake off Harry’s hand. “I don’t know,” he admitted honestly. “Probably not until after.”

Harry shook his head. “You’re going to kill yourself for this curse and you didn’t even think it was necessary to tell me yourself?”

Draco did shake him off then. “I am not going to kill myself, Harry,” he snapped. “I’ll be fine.” Except he probably wouldn’t be and the chances of him dying doing this were far greater than the chances of coming out alive.

“You might as well be.” Harry pushed his hands into the pockets of his robes and looked away. “You’re just as selfish as you were in school.”

“What?” Draco yelled and almost reached for his wand, anger suddenly rising up in him. This was absurd.

“You never stopped to think about anyone else, even back then. And now? Who’re you gonna leave behind if you die? This is ridiculous. There has to be another way.”

Draco snorted, almost unable to believe that he was truly hearing all this. “Don’t you think that if there was I would have thought of it? I’m doing this because there’s nothing else that can be done, so sod off. I won’t have any more of your nonsense tonight.”

“Fine,” Harry growled. “Fine.” He Disapparated with an audible crack and left Draco staring at the space he’d occupied only seconds ago, startled by the suddenness of his departure, heart pounding, stomach tight, hands shaking.

***

It was odd to go back to the Ministry the next day, knowing that it would - no matter how it all turned out, no matter whether he lived or died - be the last time. He didn’t know why he was so calm about it; the night he’d spent at the atrium had left him with a sense of closure in the strangest way. He did, however, also know that he didn’t want to die. He wanted to be there to greet Pansy’s first child and find out if he’d ever grow tired of kissing Harry Potter.

He shifted a little until he sat cross-legged on the large table in the observation room, tapping his quill against his sketchbook. He was sketching two spells out of habit as he thought about them, drawing elegant lines and knots, but the stage was essentially set for tomorrow, just waiting for the main act.

The door clicked and Moody hobbled inside, dumping his weight onto one of the empty chairs. He didn’t say anything, just stared up at Draco, his magical eye whirring as it scanned over his face and body as if it was looking for something, as if Moody was trying to read his mind.

“You really goin’ to do it, eh?” he said eventually.

There was one part of Draco that wanted to protest, to shout that, no, he was not, but instead he simply inclined his head in agreement.

Mora temporis,” Moody continued, jerking his head at the sketched spell in Draco’s lap. “Haven’t ever seen anyone cast that. Dark magic, that.”

“I know,” Draco said. He still didn’t know how it would affect him, but from all the spells it was the only one that would serve the purpose and, in theory, leave the least damage.

“Who’ll cast it?” Moody asked the obvious question. “‘Cos I can’t, boy, it’d break me apart before I’m even done with the incantation.” Draco knew that, too. “You thinking Potter, eh?” Moody was perfectly accurate here as well. Draco had been considering this question for quite a while, and he’d come to the conclusion that it had to be Harry, that it could only be Harry. Not simply because Harry possibly was the most powerful wizard in England, heck Europe and beyond, but because he was the only one Draco would trust to handle his life. Literally.

“Then?” Moody peeked closer and Draco showed him the other spell.

“Simple. Restituo sanguinem.” It was. But the perfect execution of this simple spell that they’d learned in their second year at Hogwarts would decide whether he lived or died.

“Outstanding. Simple yet powerful.”

The praise came so unexpected, Draco stared at Moody for a while, unsure what to say.

“That’s what magic's got to be like.” Moody nodded and hummed, then pulled himself up again. Without another word he left again and Draco pulled his knees to his chest, crumbling the sketches in the process.

It took him a while to calm down again after that and find the strength to go back upstairs to Hermione’s office. She was at her desk, writing furiously and looked up sharply when he entered without knocking, but her face softened when she saw him.

“Draco,” she said gently and Draco sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, reaching for a biscuit. He would not allow the tone of her voice to mellow his determination.

“Can you-” He cleared his throat, finding his voice barely sounded like his own. “Can you send a note for Harry?”

“Yeah?” Hermione reached for a piece of parchment and jotted down some words, then sent it flying. “Are you- is everything-”

Draco nodded and looked away, then interrupted her. “Ready? Yes. I need to talk to Harry, however. I believe it should be him.”

“What should be me?” Came Harry’s voice from the door and Draco jerked around, startled, wondering how he’d made it so fast.

“Apparated,” Harry explained, clearly reading the question on his face, and sat in the other chair. “Well?” His voice was harder than usual and it made Draco flinch. He cleared his throat and gave Hermione a small look.

“I realize it’s extraordinarily rude to request this seeing as it is your office, but could we talk privately for a few moments?” he asked and Hermione nodded quickly, gathering her notebook and a quill.

“Of course,” she said and left behind a pervasive silence.

“That was really rude,” Harry belatedly said. “What do you need?”

Draco swallowed and pressed his hands against his thighs, fingers splaying out, heart racing. He remembered their fight from last night, the pain he’d felt.

“I need you to do it,” he said and fixed his gaze on a spot behind Harry’s ear. “Freeze me after I bleed out and then heal me again.” Harry opened his mouth but no sound came out, so Draco resumed. “It has to be you. Mora temporis is too dark, too powerful for anyone else.”

Finally, Harry seemed to find his voice again, face drained of all color. “Bleed out?”

“Yes, it’s the only way because it’s blood magic. And there can’t be a potion or spell interfering,” Draco said and tried to keep his voice steady. “Everything needs to be perfectly timed. You’re the only one I trust to do this with the necessary precision.”

The dry laugh escaping Harry’s throat almost shocked Draco, deepening the pain inside him. “The necessary precision? Draco, you’re talking about dying here. On purpose. God.” Harry bent over, elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. “What are you asking of me?” he mumbled into his hands and then looked up, suddenly angry, making Draco shrink back in his chair.

“Do you realize what you’re asking?” Harry snapped. Draco looked away and did not reply. “You’re asking me to kill you.”

“I will take care of that myself,” Draco said, voice very quiet. “If all goes as planned I can be back in France by the end of Monday.”

Harry snorted. “Do I have a choice?”

Draco felt his brows knit together. Did he? Did he, Draco himself, have one? He had not thought about it before and it was a puzzling thought that left him distracted.

“I need to think,” Harry said before Draco could make up his mind. “This is all fucked up.” He got up, shoulders squared, jaw tight. “I’ll let you know in time.” He Disapparated again, not waiting for Draco to reply.

***

Harry had apparently reached a decision that night by the time Draco had had dinner and had showered, hair still wet and only in his silk robe when the doorbell sounded. He went to answer it, knowing who it was before opening it.

“Hi,” he said gently and let Harry step inside and shrug off his jacket, take off his shoes.

“Hey,” Harry said and leaned against the counter, arms crossed, and Draco followed him back to the kitchen niche, not sure what to expect. He was looking Draco up and down, without any obvious shame and Draco met his stare, suddenly aware of his own state of undress and disorder. But in contrast to their last encounter in a similar situation, he was not embarrassed, he did not try hiding, his arms loosely at his side, stance relaxed.

“Drink?” Draco asked carefully and moved past him, the tiled floor cold against his naked feet. He produced two glasses from one cupboard and whiskey from another before Harry had even replied, conjuring some ice cubes to pour their drinks over. He handed Harry a glass and they took a sip simultaneously, eyes meeting over the rims of their glasses.

“This is nice.” Harry put his glass down and wiped his lower lip with his thumb and Draco followed the movement, mesmerized, trying to think of something to say, but then Harry moved around the counter and cornered him against the cupboards, taking the glass out of his hands and kissing him deeply. It felt as though he’d been holding back impatiently and lost control now and Draco was almost certain that it was just that. He wound his arms around Harry's neck and kissed back desperately, mouth opening up, shivering when Harry’s hands found their way inside his robe and onto naked skin. It all fell back into place; Draco stopped worrying about what to say to Harry, stopped worrying about overstepping boundaries, about not offering enough of himself.

“You drive me insane,” Harry breathed against his lips. “All of you, you’re stubborn and unreasonable and selfish.” He kissed Draco again before he could protest, all tongue and teeth, biting and nipping at his lips as if he wanted to thwart any kind of protest before it could even arise.

Draco’s robe fell open, but Harry reached up and took his face into his hands, fingers curling his neck gently. “So do you,” Draco said and put his hands against his chest, tilting his head up, biting down on his lip. “Why are you here?” There was a deep ache inside him, leaving him wanting comfort and Harry’s warmth, despite - or because of - everything.

“Because of you, you prick,” Harry said, hands slipping down Draco’s body again, over his chest and stomach, coming to a rest over his hips.

Draco sighed a little and pulled back, dropping his head against Harry’s chest, curling his hands into his shirt to keep them from shaking. “I didn’t think you’d come,” he said a little belatedly. “I’m terrified.”

Harry pulled him close again, hands sliding up to the small of his back. “Me too.” A little more quietly. “I’m sorry.” Draco wasn’t sure what exactly he was apologizing for and right now it didn’t even matter.

“I need you,” he rasped, suddenly overcome, and tiptoed and pressed their mouths together again, pushing his tongue into Harry’s mouth. They melted together, pressed against the counter and the cupboards, nipping and biting at each other’s lips. It made his head spin and made him forget about the next day, made him focus on nothing except the feel of Harry’s lips against his and his hands roaming down his body.

“Yeah?” Harry grazed his fingers over the curve of Draco’s ass and slid his lips down Draco’s neck, to rest his mouth there.

“Yes,” Draco insisted and shifted his hips up a little, his erection blatantly obvious in his state of undress. Harry’s hand found it after a moment, fingers circling and rubbing too gently. Draco let out a low whine, breath speeding up. He moved to unzip Harry’s trousers, but Harry batted his hand away, grabbing his wrist.

“How much?” he demanded, pulling back, stroking Draco’s cock as he watched him.

“Oh god,” Draco groaned. “I’ll come if you don’t stop-”

“Draco,” Harry demanded, speeding up the rough movement of his hand and Draco let his head drop back against a cupboard, squeezing his eyes shut. “Come on, then.” He sped up a little and then Draco felt teeth against his neck again, biting down hard enough to leave a mark, and he came with a little shout not quite two minutes after Harry had first touched him, facing burning with embarrassment.

Harry wiped his hand on Draco’s robe and gave him a little smirk, knowing he’d get away with it, then kissed the corner of his mouth, hands going to his ass again, lifting him up a little. “Wasn’t so bad, huh?”

“Shut it,” Draco groaned and leaned into him, then reached down to finally press the palm of his hand over Harry’s erection straining against his trousers. Harry’s hips jerked forward a little and he hissed.

“Want me to suck your cock?” Draco asked, meeting Harry’s eyes, glazed over slightly, and rubbed a little faster, hand dragging over the rough material. He imagined the heady scent against his tongue, Harry pumping into him again, and licked his lips.

“Fuck-” Harry moved one of his hands from Draco’s thigh to the counter, bracing himself against it, and seemed to give in for a moment, rutting against him, lips slack. Draco bit his lip, arousal stirring in him again, wanting to see him fall apart.

“I need to be inside you,” Harry grunted then and stilled, lips and teeth latching onto Draco’s chin and neck again, pressing against Draco.

“I’m not- ah- in the kitchen, not-” Draco barely managed and then Harry was lifting him by his thighs. It was possibly even more embarrassing than coming after a mere two minutes, being carried like a woman.

“I can walk.” He pushed at Harry and slid to the floor, then gave Harry a come hither look, and sprinted to the bedroom, but was swiftly caught around the waist before he’d even reached the door.

Harry flung him inside and onto the bed, crawling on top of him. He stripped Draco’s robe off completely and Draco moaned, shifting up against him, fighting with the buttons on Harry’s shirt. His cock was stiff again and aching, and he wanted, needed to feel Harry’s skin against his.

“Bloody-” he cursed and then Harry sat up and pulled his shirt over his head; he undid his trousers and shoved them down together with his briefs and socks, leaving him completely naked. Draco stared at the trail of dark hair leading from his stomach to his cock, his chest, the wiry line of his collar bone leading to square shoulders and muscular arms.

His cock was hard, too, swollen and leaking and Draco barely resisted the urge to bend in half and suck it into his mouth. He reached out for Harry, touching his face and chest and scooted closer to kiss him. Where they pressed together, his skin felt as though sparks were erupting, and he moaned against Harry’s mouth without shame.

Harry’s breathing was frantic and after a moment, his patience seemed used up; he pushed at Draco’s chest and pressed him down into the duvet again, handling his knees until Draco lay spread out, chest rising and sinking fast. He held his breath, meeting Harry's eyes, but he felt a pang of something else when Harry leaned down to drop a kiss on his hip and then took off his glasses, gingerly placing them on the bedside table.

“Just wanted to get a good look,” he mouthed against Draco’s skin, kissing over his belly.

“Still blind as a bat?” Draco joked and shifted a little to pull one of his legs up. Harry growled a negation and moved lower again, kissing over his other hipbone, then the crease of his thigh, his erection, hands going under him to force him up a little. “Oh-” Draco made when Harry’s mouth found his sac and then the soft skin behind them before moving up again to engulf his cock.

He made another tiny noise, hips bucking up, but Harry held him there, sucking him in, mouth moving up and down in a fast rhythm until Draco almost lost himself in it. The loss of the wet warmth only a few moments later was staggering. Harry started rummaging in the bedside drawer with one hand and Draco rolled over and snatched a rolled up tube of Magic Gel from the other, pressing it into Harry’s hand.

“Oh, that’s it-” Harry said, then leaned down and kissed him again; he tasted like Draco, like sex. It was intoxicating. Draco spread his legs, hooking one over Harry’s braced arm and Harry moved to sit between them. He pushed at Draco’s thigh until he was completely spread open, vulnerable and defenseless, and then teased his cleft and opening with dry fingers.

He smiled lazily at Draco, but did not touch him more than that, just ghosting fingers, and Draco whined a little and pushed up at them, cock twitching.

“Harry!”

Harry hummed and withdrew, smearing some lube onto his fingers. “What?” he asked and cocked a brow at Draco. He climbed over him and pressed his own cock into Draco’s hip, kissing him again, slow and languid. “What do you need?”

Draco scraped his fingers down his chest, bucking up. “Your cock,” he said hoarsely, “inside me.”

A press of lips against his neck, chest, a tongue encircling his nipples and Draco groaned and almost begged, but then two fingers finally pushed inside him, stretching and scissoring. He opened his eyes again, to see Harry kneeling between his legs again, his hand on Draco’s thigh, his other hand working his fingers in and out of him.

“Fuck-”

Draco let his head fall back against the pillows, rocking up against Harry’s fingers inside him, needing more, deeper, faster- it was maddening and drew desperate little sounds from his throat. Harry thrust in another finger and Draco groaned, almost coming again, fingers digging into the sheets, twisting.

He felt Harry’s lips on his inner thigh then, nipping gently, and bucked up. “Now?” Harry’s voice rolled over him and Draco nodded and pleaded, “Yes, yes-”

He opened his eyes again and reached around, fumbling for a pillow to push under his back, but Harry climbed over him and stopped his hands. He kissed Draco again, long and hard, squeezing his hips.

“Not like that,” Harry murmured when he pulled back and flipped Draco over before he could agree or protest. He found himself chest down on his belly, head on his arms and Harry’s cock a hot weight between his cheeks.

He grabbed Draco’s hips again and pulled him up a little and Draco eagerly complied, breathing hard, scooting back until his ass was pressed tightly against Harry’s crotch, back arched. His heart was pounding, wild and urgent, and he could hear himself whimper with every movement. But Harry took his time, spreading him apart again with his thumbs, caressing his skin with rough-soft fingers.

“Harry, come on,” Draco hissed, twisting his body a little.

“Impatient.” Harry slapped his ass gently, but leaned down and kissed the small of his back and then pushed in. Draco let out a surprised sound, unable to breath for a moment or two when the head of Harry’s cock pressed past the resistance.

“Ah-” He made another sound, even less intelligible than the last, pressing his sticky forehead against his arms, rolling his hips to meet Harry’s. Harry pressed deeper into him, grunting, and then finally started moving, quick and hard thrusts that left Draco moaning into the pillow. He could feel every fiber of his body resonating, responding to Harry, their bodies and magic mingling, making his head dizzy, almost blinding him.

Harry scraped his fingers down Draco’s back, gripping his hip again tightly, using it as leverage for a better angle, and Draco called out his name, goosebumps running down his spine as Harry’s cock grazed just the right spot.

“Oh god,” he groaned and then Harry’s other hand snaked around his waist and belly, shifting him up as he sat back against his heels, drawing Draco into his lap. “Fuck-” Draco gripped Harry’s hand as his cock suddenly slid into him down to the hilt and Harry’s mouth latched onto his neck.

“Draco-” he said hoarsely and started rocking up into him in tiny, powerful thrusts pushing him closer to the edge with every second. He could feel it building inside him, all golden and warm and powerful, a feeling that mingled with the sensation of their separate magics interfering.

“I’m gonna-” he squeezed out and thrust his hips down, cock twitching as he came in long spurts over his stomach and trembling thighs. “Harry-”

Harry hands found his hips, fingers digging in as he sped up, forehead against Draco’s shoulder, and then Draco felt him come, body tensing, moaning loudly, before collapsing against him, pushing him back onto the bed, chest against Draco’s back, heavy. Draco whimpered a little, spent, and shifted, allowing Harry to slip out of him.

They rearranged themselves after a moment, lying on their sides, looking at each other’s exhausted, happy faces. Harry leaned in a little and pressed their mouths together in an almost chaste kiss, thumb against Draco’s cheek. Draco wiggled his body a little closer and put his head on Harry’s arm, closing his eyes. A hand sneaked over his hip and settled into the small of his back, holding him close.

“Are you really going back to France?” Harry asked after a while, voice drowsy.

Draco did not open his eyes, tired, and mumbled against his skin. “It’s my home.”

“Hm,” Harry said, but didn’t say anymore. He simply tugged Draco closer until Draco’s nose brushed against his collarbone, and shifted onto his back a little. It was comfortable and warm and far more intimate than any of the other times they’d shared a bed.

“I’ll do it,” Harry said just as Draco was drifting off. He pressed his mouth to Draco’s temple, then kissed his eyelids, and Draco sighed, almost not understanding not Harry meant. When he finally did, he was already falling asleep, unable to respond.

***

Draco dreamed that night. In his dream he was blind and could not see, the world nothing but an endless spread of velvety blackness before his eyes. Everything else was soft, too; anything he touched felt soft and yielding and the sounds he heard were but a bare whisper.

It was a comfortable world, but Draco was filled with a sadness, an ache, that he could not explain. He was looking for something, yet did not know what; yearning for something, unknowing of what was even around him.

Then one day as he was roaming his world, he came upon someone sharp; when he touched the other person’s body for the first time, he felt contours, edges, skin and flesh. When he heard them talk, their words rung through his ears, unforgivingly real.

And with every moment spent close to this person, his vision cleared, darkness making space for blurriness making space for light.

***

Draco looked up from the chamber into the observation room, seeing an array of pale faces, of faces he’d come to laugh with, faces that were staring down at him as wide-eyed and scared as Draco was.

He raised his hand, toasted them with the vial of Numbing Draught and tossed it back, the potion bitter-sweet down his throat. He looked around at Harry, who was in the corner of the room, arms crossed, hands on his elbows, wand out for the first time since Draco had been back in England. His face was expressionless, but his eyes were open and scared, and Draco had to look away.

He put down the vial and grabbed the silver knife from the table, wiggling his fingers to see if the potion was starting to work. He could barely feel them move, but decided to wait just another few moments.

“You should start the monitor,” Draco said quietly, his voice echoing up into the observation room via the Sonorus charm. Hermione looked up and nodded, then flicked her wand and a line of flickering light appeared on the window above them. It was peaking rhythmically, indicating Draco’s heartbeat. It was odd, seeing it, and almost made him put the knife back down and run.

He swallowed and poked his skin with the tip, drawing a single drop of blood. His stomach lurched and he heaved dryly, trying to calm down.

“Don’t look,” Harry said and was suddenly pressing against him, hand on his hip. Draco was aware of their too-close stance, but it made the panic ebb down and he looked up and nodded, eyes fixed on the graph of his yet beating heart.

Swiftly and without looking he cut through flesh, hands shaking when he dropped the knife; he leaned back against Harry’s chest then, body going numb from blood loss and pain numbing potion as his heartbeat slowed down. From the corner of his eye he could see the charm flicker, but his field of vision was getting smaller and smaller, until he saw nothing but his cardiogram and felt nothing but Harry’s hand on his hip.

There were voices and yelled instruction and then with a suddenness that surprised him the peaks died down; Harry’s wand flicked up and he whispered sisto tempus. His magic spread out over Draco like a wave, crashing over him, and for a moment Draco marveled at the feeling of being the target of Harry Potter’s magic, being the direct focus and center of its attention, that left him breathless. It was a hurricane, powerful and terrifying and beautiful.

Then his world ceased, mind and body and heart frozen in the moment until he woke again with a start, trying to scream in agony, clinging to Harry when the blood he’d lost was forced back into him, forced to run through his veins again, hot sparks cascading through his body where it began circulating once more.

He felt his wounds close from a healing spell coming from somewhere, staring up at the graph which still wasn’t moving, and then another spell hit him forcing a beat into his heart.

He gasped for breath, unable to draw any, and then Hermione’s voice calling an incantation of some sort; air streamed back into his lungs, teaching them how to breath again and Draco coughed, tears leaking from his eyes from the effort.

His body hurt everywhere and he was on the floor, pressed tightly to Harry’s chest and then, a moment later, hugging him tightly. It was painful and Draco pushed at him, skin prickly and shivering.

“Is it out?” he croaked at Hermione who’d fallen to her knees next to him, checking his wrists and forcing his face up to look into a blinding light.

Finally, when she was done, she nodded and Draco fell back against Harry again, flooded with relief. He turned his head a little, trying to see the box with the curse among all the flashing lights of too many spells in the room, but there was nothing.

He closed his eyes, grit his teeth to keep himself from wailing in pain. “Can somebody please hit me with a Somnus?”

Harry hummed and whispered something against his ear and the world blacked out, deep and dark and comfortable.

***

“Sir?” the house elf said from the door and Draco rolled onto his side, eyes opening slowly, the book slipping from his face, blinking sleepily. It seemed he'd dozed off, body warm with sleep, and now he felt disoriented and anything but awake.

“Wha-” he asked and sat up, rubbing his eyes, mouth dry.

“Sir,” she continued, “it is almost time.”

Draco groaned and climbed to his feet, stumbling after her and checking the large clock in the corner of the room. Bloody hell, he thought, he’d slept the afternoon away, and it wasn’t almost time, Harry was late again. This time, however, Draco was more than thankful – the mirror on his armoire told him he was a mess, hair sticking up and shirt rumpled.

He smoothed out his pants and tried to get his hair back into some semblance of order, when a sudden loud crack from the corner of the room made him halt and Harry Potter appeared out of thin air, grinning from ear to ear.

Draco jumped and almost fell over his shoes, then caught himself as Harry started laughing at him. He strode towards Draco and caught his arm, steadying him a little.“Straight to the bedroom, eh?” He said smiling and Draco felt himself blush hard and shook his head, looking up to meet Harry's eyes.

“It’s a miscalibration,” he insisted, biting his lip. “You know how hard this is. Just be glad you didn’t land in the fountain like last time. Or that you didn't get Splinched with one of the nurses. Everything is possible as long as you refuse to take the commercials Ports, Harry. You're too stubborn, I swear.”

“You have pillow marks on your face, Draco,” Harry interrupted him, chuckling, and stepped closer. He reached out and touched Draco’s cheek, rubbing gently, the pad of his thumb rough against Draco's skin.

“You took forever,” Draco shot back a moment later, but reached up and laced their fingers together, holding on tightly.

Harry smiled again and then leaned down, and Draco let Harry kiss him gently at first, then kissed him again, more urgently. Finally, when they were done, he said, “Hi,” and nudged his nose again Harry's, feeling both silly and happy at the same time.

“Hi,” Harry said back and pulled him into a close hug. “Hi.”

Draco let out a long sigh and leaned against him, smiling.

***