Harry's vision whited out; the maniacal Death Eater and the trees faded away until all was white, a painful, searing white that left no shadows and no colour and no recognition.
"You are going to wander these forests until you die," said somebody in front of him. "My revenge is complete!"
And then Harry was alone.
Bob came round the side of the cottage, whinnying. He came straight for Draco, stopped just short of the carrot patch, and scraped at the ground, whinnying again.
"What is it?" Draco frowned, reaching up to touch him. Bob was the strangest unicorn in his care; he hadn't started to grow his horn until five, but his coat had turned white already the year before. As a result he was a bit strange looking, a big lumbering graceless bob of a thing, with a horn too small for his size and a mane as silvery as the moon. "Is it another injured bird?"
Another whinny, then Bob jerked his head back the way he'd come.
"All right," Draco said. "I'll come check it out. I'll saddle Hubert and be right -" he was interrupted by another whinny and a jerk. "I'll be faster on horseback," Draco chided. "You know that."
Bob snorted and nudged Draco away from the stables.
"On your head be it, then," Draco said and let himself be steered away from the clearing. He checked his pocket for his wand, and then followed Bob between the trees.
Approximately ten minutes later, Bob stopped and whinnied. Draco walked around him to see what had been bothering him, expecting an injured animal - if not a bird, then perhaps a fox or a doe.
It wasn't a fox or a doe.
It was a man, collapsed on the forest floor against a tree trunk, his clothes dirty and torn. There was a piece of cloth tied around his head, covering his eyes, and from the looks of it, it'd been torn from his shirt. He had no cloak, and through a tear in a sleeve, Draco saw an angry red gash.
"Merlin's hat!" Draco sucked in a breath. He dropped to his knees beside the man, reaching out gently to touch his shoulder. The man mumbled something, but didn't otherwise react.
He was alive, then.
"Oh, Bob, you should've let me bring Hubert," Draco said, giving the man a critical once over. Nothing seemed broken, but he was clearly weak, and some of the cuts looked infected. Most puzzling was the makeshift blindfold - Draco detected no blood or pus underneath it. Why was it there, then? He turned the man's head slightly, trying to get a closer look without disturbing him, when he received the second shock of the day.
A red scar in the shape of a lightning bolt marked the man's forehead.
Draco knew that scar. He knew its owner. According to the Prophet this morning, Harry Potter was still missing. Harry Potter had mysteriously vanished during a visit to a dragon reserve in Romania a week prior, leaving behind only his wand to be found.
What was he doing here?
Bob whinnied, and when Draco turned to look at him, it was to see him kneeling on the floor and jerking his head.
"You're a piece of work, you know that?" Draco told him. "Stay still."
Not caring to use magic to move Potter, in case it would interfere with something else, he instead hoisted him carefully onto the unicorn's back. All the while, Potter didn't regain consciousness, only groaned pitifully.
The walk back to the cottage had Draco anxiously watching Potter and the forest in turns. Whatever it was that had taken Potter in Romania, could it be here too?
The strong smell of dittany settled throughout the cottage.
Around lunch time, Draco set the previous day's stew over to reheat. As the scent of food spread in the cottage, mingling with, and finally, covering up the smell of dittany, Potter stirred.
"Hey," Draco said, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed. "Are you awake?"
Potter stilled, tense. He felt around, quick, precise darts, touching the sheets, the edge of the bed, his body. "Where am I?" He touched his face then. "Where's my blindfold?"
"You're in my cottage," said Draco, wondering why Potter hadn't opened his eyes. "I took your blindfold and clothes off to check for injuries so I could treat them. How are you feeling?"
A pause. "Hungry." Potter touched his right arm, which was now bandaged. "Can I have...something to cover my eyes? The light hurts."
Curiosity piqued, Draco leaned closer. "What's wrong with your eyes? I couldn't find an injury."
"I can't see," Potter answered tersely. "The light hurts."
"May I have a look?"
Potter sat up, gingerly. "There's nothing you can do about it."
"Why not?" Draco eyed him skeptically. "I've taken care of the rest of your injuries. I do actually have credentials as a Healer - well, veterinarian, but I did a year at St. Mungo's before I switched. I could -"
"I was cursed," Potter interrupted him. "It's a -" his jaw worked, his Adam's apple bobbed, but no sound came. He tried again, but nothing came out. "It's not -"
Horror filled Draco as he realised the implications of what Potter was saying - or not saying, as it was. "Please let me have a look at your eyes," he said, voice trembling. "Maybe I can't help you, but…"
Potter considered this. "Okay," he said. "Be quick about it, it'll hurt more as soon as I open them," he said, drawing in a shaky breath.
"Hang on," Draco said, getting up briefly to fetch his wand. He returned to the bed, sat down and reached out for Potter's face, gently tipping his head towards him. "All right, open."
He didn't know what exactly he'd been expecting, but it wasn't this. Potter's pupils had blown wide, his eyes nothing but black - there was but the faintest sliver of green at the edges. Before he could get a good look in, Potter had squeezed his eyes shut, palms up and pressing against them. He was breathing heavily.
"I'm sorry," Draco said quietly. Potter was right - there wasn't anything he could do about that kind of thing, and if it was a curse...well, there was even less he could do. "I'll… I'll find you something to cover your eyes with. Eat first. When was the last time you ate anything?"
"Before," Potter said. "What day is it?"
"Sunday. June 13th." Draco filled a small bowl with stew and buttered a thick slice of bread. "I'm afraid my bread has gone a bit stale, but it should still be edible."
"I don't care. I could eat a horse. Uncooked, even." He took the bowl and the bread eagerly, and, somewhat clumsily, tucked in.
Draco watched him out of the corner of his eye while he dug around in his linen closet for that old sheet he was sure he hadn't tossed yet - ah yes, there it was. He cut it into strips long enough to go around Potter's head about three times, which should ensure some protection from the light.
Potter had made short work of the stew and the bread in what seemed like record time. He was holding the empty bowl and the spoon awkwardly, clearly not knowing what do with the items now. Draco took them from him and put them in the sink, then returned to wind one of the newly cut strips around Potter's head, taking care to cover his eyes.
"Thank you," Potter said, relief in his voice. He touched the blindfold, feeling around for the knot, and how it fitted over his face. "Thank you," he repeated. Then: "You haven't told me your name."
"I…" Draco felt dread settle in his stomach. How would he react? "My name is Draco Malfoy."
"Nice to meet you," Harry said. "Mine is Harry Potter."
"I know that," Draco said, confounded. The dread turned into a stone. What was going on? "I know you."
"You do?" Potter frowned. "Your name has a familiar ring to it, but I don't…remember…"
"We went to school together," Draco told him, horror creeping up on him again. "What do you remember?"
"I remember my name. I remember that I retired from the Aurors last year. I remember who's current Minister for Magic. I don't remember if I'm married, if I have children, who my friends are, who...who my enemies are." Potter rubbed his head. "I don't remember anything that's important. I've been trying to remember." He looked up suddenly, head turned roughly in Draco's direction. "Where am I?"
Draco, not knowing how to deal with the situation, latched onto the one thing he could do, and answered: "The Forest of Dean. I'm the Queen's Appointed Unicorn Caretaker here. I found you not far from my cottage this morning."
"Oh." Potter licked his lips. "I was in Romania. I - lost my wand. I tried to Apparate home, but...I didn't think I'd actually gone anywhere, I mean, there were still trees… I was only hoping I wouldn't run into any dragons."
"You Apparated without a wand?"
"I've done it before," Potter replied sheepishly. "But short distances only! I've never… not like this."
"Merlin's saggy balls," Draco said and sat down. "I don't even know where to begin processing all of this."
"I'm sorry," Potter said. He'd pulled Draco's blanket up around him. "I suppose it was terribly rude of me to drop into your life like this."
Draco rubbed his eyes. "Nonsense," he said. "Like I said, I'm the Queen's Appointed Unicorn Caretaker in this forest. It's an old title and nowadays it also covers other animals. I think the job description explicitly said all living things between the River Wye and the River Severn, roughly. You probably count in there somewhere." He gestured, having forgotten that Potter couldn't see him. "If you're anything like you were in school, you're still an ass, so you count."
Potter was quiet. "Were we friends in school?"
"No." Draco's shoulders sagged. He chose the most simple way he could put it. "We got into fights."
"What sort of fights?"
"One time I broke your nose. Another time you sliced my chest open. That sort of thing." Draco got up and dished up the last dregs of the stew for himself. "We weren't very friendly at all."
"That's…" Potter was frowning behind that blindfold. "That seems very violent."
Draco laughed. "To be fair, I was trying to kill you or have you expelled a lot of the time." He shrugged, then realised that of course Potter wouldn't be able to see that, and continued: "I was a little shit. You were a little shit. The war changed everything."
"I remember almost nothing from the war. I remember there was a war, and that I had a big part in it, but… I don't remember… the people."
"What can you tell me about the curse? Malfoy Manor still has a well stocked library. I could do some research for you, if you'd like." Draco pinched his thigh. It was one thing to pick Potter up from the forest floor and treat his wounds, it was another thing to get involved. What exactly did he think he could accomplish? He should take Potter back to civilisation and hand him over to St. Mungo's and the Ministry's Curse-breakers. Not get involved with a curse cast by an unknown entity, though Draco could wager a guess as to who was responsible. There were still Death Eaters on the loose.
Potter's mouth was moving, but only choking sounds were emerging. He started and tried again, several times, but eventually gave up in frustration. "Not much," he eventually said. "I know it blinded me. I am obviously unable to remember important people. I know h-" his throat closed up again, and he choked, then shook his head. "I know more than I can say," he managed.
An idea struck. "Could you write it?" Draco put down his empty bowl of stew and fetched a pencil and notebook. "It's worth a try?"
"I can't see to write," Potter said, but he looked hopeful. Or, that's how Draco interpreted it anyway, it was hard to tell with the blindfold.
Potter felt the edges of the notebook. "This is a blank page?"
He scratched the pencil against the page. It looked like he was writing, but when Draco leaned over to look, there was nothing there but illegible scrawl.
"That's unreadable," Draco commented. Potter looked up, and Draco was sure he was glaring at him. "Your handwriting was atrocious in school and I honestly can't tell if that's what it's supposed to look like or not. Try to write your name."
Potter wrote his name. It was perfectly legible, if a little disjointed for lack of vision.
"Write: Draco is the most handsome man in the world," Draco instructed.
"What? Why?" Potter protested, pencil stopped after Drac.
"I'm testing your sentences," Draco answered. He didn't say that he was taking the piss at the same time, but Potter was obviously aware so what was the point? He would take his fun where he could get it. "Go on."
Potter wrote Draco is the most handsome man in the world in the notebook. It was also legible, even if not all the pencil strokes connected in the right places.
"That's readable," Draco told him. "Now try to write about the curse."
Nothing but illegible scrawl came forth.
Potter tried, again and again, but it was the same: however he tried to phrase it, nothing happened but the notebook pages filling with unreadable chicken scrawl of the worst calibre. Eventually Potter grew frustrated and tossed the notebook away, turning away in a sulk.
Draco picked the book up quietly, but when he turned to face Potter again he'd burrowed into the bed, back towards him.
Before Draco went back inside for the evening to go over his medical supplies, he picked asparagus and peas from the garden to have with the new potatoes for dinner.
Potter was sitting up, listening intently, when Draco entered the cottage. "Who's there?"
"Just me," Draco said, putting the vegetables on the kitchen counter. "Still sulking?"
"No." Potter turned his head in Draco's direction. "But I do need to use your bathroom. If you have one."
"I had plumbing installed when I took over this place," Draco told him. "I'm happy with living in the middle of a forest with only few amenities, except for plumbing. That I refuse to live without." He touched Potter's arm. "Get up. I'll lead you there."
Potter stood, holding onto Draco's arm. He swayed a little, but rest and food seemed to have done good, and he stood up straight. "Thank you," he said.
"It's only a few steps," Draco said. "The door's on your left, yes, there. To your left is the sink, to your right the toilet, and straight ahead the bathtub. It's a bit cramped in there, so I'm sure you'll manage just fine."
He left Potter in the bathroom, and returned outside to fetch a portion of the newly dug potatoes. When Potter reemerged, Draco had washed them and set them over to boil, and was cleaning the asparagus.
"You said you know me," Potter said, feeling his way back towards the bed, but he didn't sit down. Draco looked away. He'd not given Potter any clothes to wear, so he was only in his boxers (which were probably horribly filthy, though Draco did not want to know) which meant he was slightly more naked than Draco was comfortable with. The dittany had taken care of his smaller injuries, but it didn't cover up Potter's abs or muscled thighs.
"Yeah," he answered, then cleared his throat. "You should probably have a bath after dinner. I'll… I probably have some spare clothing you can borrow."
"Tell me about me," Potter said. "Am I married?"
"No." Draco put the asparagus aside. "You almost were, though. It was quite the scandal. You left each other at the altar."
"...what?" Potter had paled.
"It was all over the papers. Apparently the two of you only found out at the altar that marriage wouldn't be very fun at all. She later came out as a lesbian."
"Ginevra Weasley. Your best friend's sister." Draco turned to look at Potter now. He was still pale, but now he was in shock. "About three feet in front of you is a chair and a table. Sit."
"I don't remember her at all," Potter said, stumbling forwards. He located the chair and sat. "Did that really happen? It seems very… dramatic."
"You never did anything by halves." Draco turned back and continued making dinner. "Once you've eaten and bathed I should turn you in to the Aurors. Everyone's looking for you, you know."
"No!" Potter sounded agitated. "Not yet. I don't know who did this to me. I wouldn't be able to recognise anyone. I wouldn't know who to trust. I can't go yet. I…"
"You can't stay here," Draco told him. "I'm not equipped to have guests. That's my bed over there, that you know it."
"It's a large bed," Potter said. "I could also sleep on the floor. I don't care. I need… time. To figure out what to do next."
Draco put down the pea pod he'd just emptied to tiredly rub his face. "Why here? Why with me? I told you we aren't friends. I quite literally tried to kill you when we were younger."
Potter's jaw clenched, then he said: "You seem trustworthy. You picked me up and tended my wounds when you could just as easily have left me to die. My gut tells me you've been honest with me… and didn't you say you're a unicorn caretaker?"
"If you're going to suggest I'm some kind of honest, pure virgin, I will hit you. And you won't see it coming, so I will absolutely get a hit in. And it will hurt."
"No, no, I meant, it's only - you said it yourself. It's your job to take care of 'every living thing' in this forest, and you said I probably counted." Potter's jaw had that firmness about him that Draco recognised from school; he was displaying the highest level of stubbornness possible. "So. While I'm like this I can stay here under that pretext."
"I should just throw you out -" Draco was interrupted by a loud whinny coming through the window above the sink. Looking up, Bob was trying to nudge the window further open in order to poke his head in. "Stop that," he ordered, pushing his palm against Bob's muzzle in order to try to push him away. Unlike most other equine creatures Draco had encountered in his life, Bob's muzzle wasn't very sensitive, so he wasn't deterred by this. "Bob, stop! Last time you did this you got stuck and it took me a long fucking time to get you unstuck, so for the love of yourself and my shins please stop!"
"What is going on?" Potter asked.
"It's just Bob," Draco told him, then abandoned the peas completely. He rushed outside, and a moment later he was tugging the unicorn away from the window. "You big lump, why do you always insist on being so difficult? The door was open! Come on, now."
A few harrowing minutes later, Draco re-entered the cottage, Bob following him closely.
"You stop right there," Draco told him sternly. "Ah-ah! Not a single step further!" He pointed at the threshold. Bob had been about to put one hoof over the threshold, now he put it down again on the outside.
"I still don't understand what's going on," Potter said.
"Bob's the unicorn who found you," Draco told him, still eyeing Bob sternly. "He brought me to you. Probably came back to see how you were doing."
"Yes, see? He's fine. You did good. No, you still cannot come inside."
"The unicorn's name is Bob?"
"It's a well-deserved name." Draco did not offer an explanation. Bob scraped a hoof against the ground and whinnied again. "Like I said."
"Should I say something?"
"Like what?" Draco looked at him in surprise.
"Oh, like… Thank you?" Potter shrugged awkwardly. "It's the right thing to do?"
Draco stared at him. Trust Potter to always be righteous and noble and good and all those other things he'd gotten pasted on him over the years. "I suppose," he eventually said. "Bob wants a closer look at you anyway, any minute he'll barge in. Get up."
He led Potter around the table and towards the door, where Bob was scraping at the ground and making snorting noises. Draco took Potter's hand and put it on Bob's muzzle.
"This is a unicorn?" Potter asked, mouth open in wonder. "I'm touching a unicorn?"
"I thought they didn't like people."
"Unicorns are usually much more skittish than Bob here. The herd here has gotten mostly used to me, but… well, Bob's a special case. A nutcase, as it happens." Draco petted him.
"Amazing," Potter said, then cracked a big smile. The first Draco had seen all day. "Thank you, Bob."
Draco watched them. Bob was being uncharacteristically still, letting Potter pet him - he even let him touch his horn, which Draco knew he was very sensitive about. It was sweet, if he had to call it anything, and Potter's giddy smile was tugging at him. He let out a little sigh.
"You can stay," he told Potter. "But if you kick me in your sleep, I'll push you out of the bed and you can sleep on the floor. No second chances."
Having Harry around wasn't as upsetting to Draco's routines as he'd feared. Harry had spent the first morning in the cottage stubbornly learning where everything was, making circuits and counting steps. The cottage was small; everything was in one room except for the pantry and the bathroom, with the bed placed in a nook between the two so it could be curtained off from the rest of the living area. Harry had mapped it all in only a few hours, but he'd also been banned from the back shelf, as it contained all of Draco's carefully labelled potions and potion ingredients.
On his second day, he started doing calisthenics on Draco's floor in the mornings.
On the third day, he'd put himself on breakfast duty. After only a few small mishaps with the frying pan resulting in a burned pinkie, Harry was soon an expert in navigating cooking blindly, and Draco could enjoy a hot breakfast every day.
The scrambled eggs were perfect, and Draco vaguely considered just keeping Harry around forever.
On the fourth day, the books Draco had sent for from the Manor arrived. Two of the Manor's large owls flew in through the open door, carrying a large package between them, and crash-landing onto the dinner table.
"Really!" Draco chided them as he swept feathers off the table. "Bloody disgraces, the two of you."
"What is happening?" Harry asked.
"Owls," Draco informed him. He'd managed to untangle both of the owls from the package. "Shoo! There's treats in the barn. Don't pick on Hubert." The owls hooted and Draco gave them a stern look. "I'll know if you pick on Hubert."
The owls took off again, leaving more feathers in their wake. Draco opened the package and laid out the books on the table. There were only four out of the five Draco had asked for. It was possible they'd sold the fifth one, but it was also possible that it'd been confiscated or, Draco thought, that his mother hadn't wanted it to leave the Manor.
That didn't matter, Draco would just pay her a personal visit later, and have a peek in the library.
He noticed that Harry was looking at him - or rather, his head was turned in Draco's direction - and was smiling, as if Draco was doing something really amusing.
"What?" Draco asked.
"Nothing," Harry said, shrugging. "You talk to animals a lot?"
Draco's cheeks reddened. "It's part of the job."
"Is it really?" Harry smirked. "If I look up the job description for The Queen's Appointed Unicorn Caretaker, will I find the sentence 'must regularly talk to animals'?"
"Uh-huh. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact you're quite alone out here."
Draco's heart did a little embarrassed flutter. Yes, he was alone out here a lot. It was what the job required - it wasn't anything to be embarrassed about, really, it wasn't as if he wasn't able to receive visitors or as if he was bound to the place…it'd been his own choice to take the job.
"That's not a bad thing," Draco said, sharper than he intended. He picked up one of the books, the Everyday Execrations for your Everyday Enemy!. It was unlikely they'd find Harry's curse in there, but it seemed as good a start as any other.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, small wrinkles appearing on his brow and peeking out from under the blindfold. "I didn't mean to imply that. I think it's cute, that's all."
"Cute…?" Draco didn't know what to even say to that. Harry Potter was calling him cute? Of his own accord? Because Draco conversed with animals? "You're out of your mind."
"Maybe." Harry shrugged. "What did the owls bring?"
"Curse books from the library at the Manor. We might be able to find your curse in one of them. It should help the Curse-breakers when you go see them."
Harry's face changed and he became very still. "I'm not going to see them," he said, fiddling with the hem of his (Draco's) shirt.
"What? Why not? You said you needed to figure out what to do next - you can't stay here forever!"
He grimaced. "I know that. I just don't think the Curse-breakers can help me."
"So, what, you're just going to stay cursed forever?" Draco put the book down so he could cross his arms over his chest. It didn't matter that Harry couldn't see it, it made Draco feel better. "That's stupid."
"I'm not going to stay cursed forever!" Harry protested, getting on his feet. "It's just that right now I don't think they can help me, and I just - I'm not - I don't -" He clenched his fists and let out a growl of frustration. Then, inexplicably, he ran out the door.
Or rather, attempted to. He missed the door by a foot, running straight into the doorframe.
"Oh for the love of -" Draco grumbled and very firmly led Harry back to the table before he could run off again. "Sit." He examined Harry's head, which seemed to be growing a lump where he'd hit it. "What the hell are you doing, running off like that?"
Draco muttered a healing spell and the swelling subsided. "Idiot."
"I was frustrated."
"I can see that." Draco crossed his arms again. "You are going to look through those curse books. That's the condition for staying here. I'm not putting up with you so you can wallow or whatever it is that you do and not do anything to improve your situation. If you want to do that, you can damn well go to a hotel."
"I just...I need to put myself back together," Harry said, chastened. "Curse or no curse, I...I need to figure out who I am."
"Yes, you can do that in a spa hotel," Draco said, but he wasn't as angry as he was before. "I hear they have scented lotions."
Harry turned to face him. "I'm not fond of lavender," he said.
Draco cracked a smile. "Good, because all you get around here is birch and pine." He pushed the pile of books towards Harry. "Start with the top one. I've got to go check on Hubert, see that the owls aren't pestering him."
"How am I supposed to read this?" Harry touched the cover of the book. "I'd do a Read-Aloud charm, but I don't have a wand."
"Oh! Hm." Draco eyed Harry. "Well, maybe…" He went over to the small work station by the back shelf, and opened a drawer. "Maybe you can use this." He drew out his old wand, the one Harry had taken from him during the war, and put it in Harry's hand.
Harry's face changed. "This is familiar," he said. He produced a series of golden sparks. "It almost feels like…"
"You've used it before," Draco told him. "It's my old wand. You used it during the war...and after, its loyalty never quite returned to me. I got a new one, but...well, I didn't want to let this one go. If you can use it...well." He watched as Harry produced a little swarm of butterflies, who escaped through the door. He couldn't help feeling jealous. It'd been his wand.
"It feels good," Harry told him, running his fingers along the length of it. "It's friendly, familiar. How did I come to use it?"
"You took it from me." Draco fidgeted, then before Harry could say anything to that admission, he continued: "I'm going to check on Hubert. Don't hurt yourself."
Just as he walked out the door, he heard Granger's voice read aloud the title of Everyday Execrations for your Everyday Enemies!.
"How well do you know me?" Harry asked, and Draco paused in the middle of crawling into bed.
"What do you mean?" he asked, and then crawled in, drawing the curtains shut. The bed lamp was on, painting the little enclosure in a warm, golden light. He didn't lie down yet and instead tucked his feet under himself, drawing the long nightshirt over his knees.
"I know you said we weren't friends in school. I mean...do you know me, now?"
Draco frowned. "Until five days ago, I hadn't seen you since the war."
"That's not what I mean." Harry rubbed his face. He'd switched out his blindfold for a clean one, the other one having gotten grimy during the day. "Can you tell me about me?"
"Is this part of your 'figure out who you are' thing? Because I'm not sure how helpful it's going to be if I sell you a cart of horse shit."
"I just want facts," Harry said.
Draco considered this. "You know, even facts are biased. I'm not an unbiased source. Whatever facts I know about you or your life since...school, or the war, have been gleaned from the gossip columns in the Prophet, or terrible tell-all books written by awful journalists about the war."
Harry's mouth dropped open. "There are tell-all books about me?"
"Yes. And you've denounced every single one of them, very publicly and very angrily," Draco told him. "So, as you see… I could tell you 'facts' from those books, but I don't know how factual they are."
"That's complicated." Harry frowned, then turned onto his side. "I was just curious...I wanted to know if I'm seeing anyone right now."
Draco gave him a look. "You're blind."
"Ha ha." Harry poked him. He missed at first, but on his second try he found Draco's thigh. "Very funny."
"I don't know," Draco said, in answer to the question. He stretched out and lay down, pulling the covers up. "Since the whole Wedding That Almost Was fiasco, you've kept your private life out of the papers."
Did he sound disappointed? Draco glanced at him. Harry's brow was furrowed, and his mouth was doing that thing that meant he was thinking.
"You know," Draco said, "even if you don't remember the important people, wouldn't you know your feelings? Wouldn't you know if you're in love with someone? I imagine it'd hurt quite a bit."
"Why would it hurt?"
"Oh, you know. Being away from them?"
"I suppose," Harry said slowly. "But I don't feel anything like that."
In this golden glow and silent space, it seemed suddenly easy to be bold, brave. To do things he wouldn't otherwise do. How short was the distance between them? How simple would it be to lean across that small chasm and press his lips to Harry's?
What he did instead was roll onto his back and stare up at the ceiling. "There were rumours," he said. "If you want to know."
"What kind of rumours?"
"Nothing recent. For a while the gossip columns seemed to think you were dating the Magpies Keeper, but it was never confirmed -"
"Matthew Johnson?" Harry interrupted, thoughtful look on his face. "I don't think I've even met the guy. I mean - I remember him. I know who he is. So he's not really someone," he gestured, "important. To me."
"He's attractive, though," Draco said, taking a small metaphorical leap.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. He paused, then said: "I am interested in both men and women, if that's what you meant by rumours."
"It was," Draco admitted, cheeks red. "I just...I wanted to know if it was true."
"Why?" Harry's tone was curious. "Is it important?"
"Sort of. I mean - you're the saviour of the wizarding world. If you're queer, then that means I can be too. I don't mean, I mean, my friends don't judge me for it, and my family...I suppose since the war they have a different perspective. Better to be gay than to be dead at the hands of the fucking Dark Lord, you know? But that doesn't mean that…" Draco trailed off. "I've been hoping for a long time that the rumours were true. That you'd come out. That everyone would see that somebody as wholesome and successful and saintly as you could be queer and it wouldn't change anything, except it would change everything."
Harry was quiet for a long time. "I don't think I was aware it was that important," he eventually said. "The curse didn't take all my memories. I know why I never came out. It was nothing to do with…" he gestured again. "All of this. It was just something personal, you know? I always thought it'd...just come out. Naturally." He smiled wryly. "I'm not saintly, though, am I?"
"Might as well be," Draco said. This conversation had taken a really weird turn, and he wasn't sure how to feel about it. Relief, sure. A strange, fluttering hope, perhaps.
"You know," Harry said, carefully, as if he didn't really know where he was treading, "it took me a while to realise that it was okay. I don't - I don't quite remember how I did, I suppose some important people were involved in that process, but I know it took a while, and it's okay now. Are you okay?"
Draco closed his eyes, pressing back tears. He didn't really think he was okay. He didn't really think it was okay that this was the first time anybody had asked him that. He thought, maybe, that being asked if he was okay meant he could be. Maybe he was. He swallowed a couple of times, fighting down the lump in his throat. "Yeah," he said. "I'm okay."
"Are you - are you crying?"
Damn Harry and his stupid perceptive skills. "No," Draco said, crossly.
"Okay," Harry replied, humour in his voice. Then: "Tell me more about the papers and what they write about me."
Their work wasn't made easier by the fact that Harry was curse-bound to not speak of his curse. He was understandably frustrated, and no matter how many more curse books Draco sent for, it helped little.
June was coming to an end, stacks of curse books were piled up against Draco's little working table at the back of the cottage and the beetroots were about ready to get dug up. The raspberries were just about to ripen, too, and Draco was contemplating making a short trek to the best raspberry brushes before the birds made short work of them all, when Bob and Daisy appeared at the edge of the clearing.
Draco stood up from where he was kneeling by the asparagus and onion patch, shielding his eyes from the sun with a hand. "Bob, what's this? You never bring anybody else here," Draco said, eyeing Daisy warily. Daisy usually didn't let him very close, and now she was hovering anxiously by Bob's side. Then Draco realised exactly what was wrong with this picture.
"Daisy, where's Poppy?" Draco asked, as Bob sprinted across the short distance towards Draco, almost piercing him through with his horn as he attempted to nudge Draco towards Daisy. "Is it Poppy?" Draco asked, putting his hand on Bob's head. "Is that what's wrong?"
"All right," Draco told him, then turned and ran inside the cottage. "Harry," he said, as he ran past him to the back of the cottage, "I've got to go see to a sick unicorn. I might be gone for a while." He picked up his medical bag and checked the contents, then surveyed his shelves. He hadn't seen Poppy and Daisy since May, which wasn't all that strange as they were the most shy of the bunch. Poppy had looked fine then, pregnant and probably close to foaling, so chances were that it wasn't Poppy herself who was sick, but her foal.
Draco selected a number of vials and added them to the stash in his bag. He also added bandages and splinters; it was rare, but it did happen that foals broke a leg, especially if they'd wandered near the ravine and took a heavy fall. What else could he possibly prepare for?
"Can I come?" Harry asked.
"Hm?" Draco didn't heed him, hand hovering over a potion that would put an animal to sleep. He took it, and hoped he wouldn't need to use it.
"Can I come with?"
"I don't know if that's wise," Draco told him, buckling his bag shut. "Sick unicorns are more skittish than healthy ones, and they don't know you. They barely let me come close as is, I might not be able to go near if you're with me."
"Bob knows me," Harry said, and Draco looked up to see that Bob had put half is his body through the door opening, and was rubbing his face on Harry's chest. His horn was positioned just right to accidentally take out one of Harry's eyes if Harry moved the wrong way.
Draco accessed the situation. Bob could be hard to restrain and when he was distressed he was impossible. There was a real risk that he would get in the way and make things worse. If Harry distracted him, maybe... maybe that could work.
"Okay," Draco said. "You can come. Stay close to Bob and stay put where I tell you to stay put." He nudged Bob away from Harry and back out the door, then handed Harry a spare cloak. It was one of his winter cloaks, fashioned from thick, warm wool. "In case it gets late."
Daisy was still hovering at the edge of the clearing. She was kicking about impatiently, and Draco sent Bob over to keep her company while he saddled Hubert.
Harry was waiting outside the cottage, holding Draco's medical bag. Draco fetched a water skin and locked the cottage, mounted Hubert and then helped Harry up. And then they followed Bob and Daisy through the forest.
It took them a good two hours to reach Poppy. She was lying beneath a large beech tree, belly swollen. The herd was scattered in the trees a short distance away, watching warily as Bob and Daisy approached with Draco, Hubert and Harry.
"Oh no," Draco breathed, as they drew closer. "The foal is probably dead."
"What?" Harry asked, alarmed. His arms around Draco's waist tightened just a fraction.
Draco stopped Hubert a good twenty paces away. "Poppy should've had her foal already, but she hasn't. From here it looks like labour problems, but she's also late, so the foal is probably dead." Draco dismounted. "You stay here with Hubert and Bob. If I need you I'll wave- I'll figure something out that isn't shouting. Try to keep Bob out of my way. Don't worry about Hubert, he won't wander off."
Daisy had lain down nose to nose with Poppy, who was whining, but Bob was still hovering by Hubert's side. Harry slid off Hubert. "Okay," he said, but he sounded shaken.
"Okay," Draco said. "If you've any deities you like to pray to, I think Poppy and I would appreciate it." He hefted the medical bag and water skin, and turned to face the scene before him, and started a slow approach. Behind him, he heard Harry mumble something, and a soft whinny from Bob.
The two unicorn mares let Draco approach without issue, which was a relief. He'd lost a unicorn once because it wouldn't let him near, and he hadn't been able to do anything. Unicorns possessed the unique ability to block unwanted magic, so the healing spells Draco had subtly tried to send off from a distance hadn't taken.
Poppy had let him near, so Draco was able to examine her. "Poppy, honey," he murmured, briefly touching her swollen belly. There was a rank, rotten smell in the air. Her labour was in progress, but seemed to have stalled; two legs were poking out but nothing else was happening. Draco ran a series of diagnostic spells. "Oh, sweetie," he breathed, when he saw the results. By all accounts, the foal had been dead for at least two weeks. What was worse, was that there was an unknown problem with the labour; unicorns usually delivered within thirty minutes, but Poppy had been stuck like this for hours - six, by Draco's estimate.
Draco administered a labour inducing potion and while waiting for it to take effect, he made a quick note in his journal and lined up potions against infection. This was supposed to be Poppy's first foal, which meant she had no prior labour experience Draco could compare against.
The potion didn't seem to take. "Poppy, sweetie," Draco murmured, gently petting her. "We need to get your baby out. Are you blocking the potion?" Poppy whinnied weakly, and Daisy nudged her. "I'm going to try a higher dose, okay?"
The second dose didn't take either. The only other thing he could do was pull the foal out manually. He'd only done it once before, but that had been a success - that foal had been healthy and alive. This one wasn't.
"Honeygirl, I'm going to pull. It's going to hurt." Draco put his wand down within reach, positioned himself behind Poppy, and pulled. The legs slid out a bit further, but then stopped. Draco pulled again, but the foal inside didn't budge. He kept speaking to her in soothing tones, trying to calm her down as he felt his own panic rise. There was something really, really wrong if he couldn't get the foal out this way.
He stopped in order to check on Poppy. Time was running out for her and the foal was stuck. He could do a cesarian, but in her state there was no knowing if the sedative would take and if it didn't, the pain could end her.
Draco ran another set of diagnostic spells, and this time he conjured up a model of her uterus. Maybe if he could see how the foal was positioned, he could work out a solution…
"Oh, honey," he said, gasping. "There are two." How did he miss the second foal the first time? Draco checked for a heartbeat and was relieved when he found one, but then the gravity of the situation crushed over him. The other foal and Poppy would both die if he didn't figure something out, soon.
Blast it all, he thought, and shouted: "Harry!" Daisy startled, but Poppy didn't respond to the sudden noise. "Get over here!"
The sedative might not take, but Draco administered it anyway. If he and Harry couldn't pull the foals out, he was going to have to cut her open. He heard the sound of something big hitting the ground behind him, and when he turned to look it was to see that Harry had stumbled over a tree root.
"Over here," Draco said. "I can't get the foal out. I need to borrow some of your strength," he said. "Here." He guided Harry in position. Daisy watched Harry warily, but Draco had no time to try to mitigate her anxiety. Poppy had become unresponsive.
"What's this smell?"
"Dead foal and infection," Draco replied. "The other foal is still alive. We pull on three."
Harry nodded, Draco counted, and they pulled. The foal budged slightly.
"Again," Draco said.
They pulled, and suddenly, as if a dam broke, the foal slid free. Harry fell backwards from the momentum.
"I'm glad you don't have to see this," Draco said, softly, as he picked up the dead foal and moved it away. The golden sheen of its coat was gone, replaced with a dull, greyish tinge. It smelled strongly of rot. Unicorns weren't supposed to be like this, but despite their magic, they were animals too. They could get injured, they could die, and they could be stillborn. Draco fought against the lump in his throat. There was no time to cry.
Harry scrambled to his feet. "How bad is it?"
"It's bad." Draco checked on Poppy, who'd livened up a little, and considered giving her another labour inducing potion. Her best chance of survival was to deliver everything naturally. "Poppy, honey, how're you doing?" He stroked her muzzle. "We still need to get your second baby out. This one's still alive, sweetie, and it needs its mum. I'm going to give you another labour inducing potion, okay? Do you think you can do that?"
Poppy made a snorting noise, and Draco chose to interpret that positively. He administered yet another dose of the potion, then went back to talking to her, rubbing her belly and waiting for signs that the potion had taken, and that her labour would start up again.
Seven minutes, and Poppy whinnied.
"Here we go." Draco looked up at Harry, who hadn't moved from his spot. "Move away a bit, Harry. She's going to need some space."
Draco kept a careful eye on Poppy, wand at the ready, in case her labour stalled again. She was tired, and weak, but this time everything went smoothly and in no time a golden little filly was stumbling about, alive and healthy and beautiful.
"Well done, honey," Draco told Poppy. He examined her again, made sure that she'd delivered everything, gave her two potions against infection and one for milk stimulation. He then gave her the healthy placenta and watched as she ate up all of it.
"What's happening?" Harry asked after a while.
"The second foal is fine," Draco told him. "And Poppy will be okay. I'd like to keep her under observation, just in case, but we'll see if she lets me." He opened the water skin and with a few meticulous spells he'd cleaned himself, Harry, and any items that had become dirtied.
He desperately wanted to sit down and relax and let himself feel the relief and sadness that was building up inside him, but he couldn't. Not yet. There were still things to be done.
Poppy, looking much livelier and more energetic now, got to her feet, Daisy now standing a few paces away, and started licking her filly. When the filly was clean, she wandered over to where the dead foal lay, and nudged it. When it didn't move, she whined.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," Draco told her. "There's nothing I can do."
The little filly stumbled up to her mother, who nudged the dead foal once more, then walked away, giving her attention to the healthy, alive one.
He watched as Poppy and her filly joined Daisy and walked away, the herd closing ranks about them. Bob whinnied a greeting and left too.
"They've left," Draco said, belatedly, to Harry.
"I know," Harry answered. "I felt it."
Draco buried the dead foal deep enough that he hoped nothing could get at it. Then he hefted the medical bag onto his shoulder, stuffed the empty water skin inside it, and led Harry back to Hubert, who'd been nipping at grasses right where they'd left him.
The ride back to the cottage was silent. The day had passed and the sun was setting, Draco was tired, and there was a stone weighing on his heart. Any time now he would burst out crying, finally releasing the flood of emotions he'd been suppressing all day.
"We should get raspberries," he said, suddenly.
"Raspberries." Harry's voice was flat.
"I know a good place for them." Draco's shoulders were tense. Maybe if they got off Hubert for a bit to pick raspberries he'd feel better. Maybe he could make the rest of the ride home, then.
"You can talk about it, you know," Harry said.
"What?" Draco startled. "I don't - what are you talking about?"
"You're stiff as a board. If you want to talk about it or just have a good cry, or whatever, you can do that."
"I don't want to do that," Draco replied tersely.
"I'm sorry. I just thought...I just helped deliver a dead unicorn baby. There's something inside me that's...it just hurts. I thought you'd be hurting too." Harry shrugged. Draco felt that shrug at his back, and it dislodged the stone on his heart. "Talking helps, sometimes."
"No, talking doesn't help," Draco told him, but his voice was rough now, cracking.
"You called her honeygirl," Harry said then, and Draco didn't even have time to curse him for it before his chest heaved and the first sob came out. He dropped the reins, burying his face in his hands instead.
Hubert stopped walking, and Draco felt Harry's arms shift so that he had one arm across his chest, holding him close. Harry's face pressed against his neck. "It's okay," he murmured. "It ended well."
"It's not okay," Draco said between sobs. "It was a close call. I almost lost all three of them."
"But you didn't." Harry brought his hand up and clumsily wiped Draco's tears away. "There was nothing you or anyone else could've done for the first done. But you saved the other two. They came to get you because they trusted you to do it, and you did it."
Draco drew in a shuddering breath. "Poppy and Daisy were the first foalings I witnessed when I came here," he said. "I'd been here all of three days, and it was an accident of sorts, I was just out with Hubert, getting to know the forest, you know? And then suddenly I was in a clearing full of poppies and there was a unicorn lying on the ground in front of me giving birth." He felt the tension dissipate. Now he was just tired.
"That's why you call her Poppy?"
"I called her honeygirl first. Both of them. Because they were the first unicorn foals I'd seen since that Care of Magical Creatures class we had at Hogwarts, do you remember? In our fourth year." Draco wiped his eyes on his sleeves, holding his breath ever so slightly.
"Vaguely," Harry answered. "They're gold, aren't they?"
"Yeah," Draco confirmed. "They turn silver at two and white at seven and grow their horn at around four. Except if you're Bob, in which case you do everything assbackwards and awkwardly."
"What will you call Poppy's little one?"
"I don't know." Draco picked up the reins, but he didn't spur Hubert on yet. It was starting to get dark and there was still about an hour's ride left, so he really should get them going. "I was thinking Harriet, maybe. Or Hope."
Harry's arm tightened around Draco in a hug, and he thought he could feel Harry smile. Then Harry loosened his grip and settled them around Draco in a more lax way, suitable for riding. "I like Hope," he said.
Draco nodded. He was ready to go home now. "Let's get raspberries tomorrow."
They found the herd near the southern edge of the forest. Draco watched them for a long time, looking for any signs of distress or illness. Bob neighed in greeting at them, but didn't otherwise come over to say hello, and Draco spotted Poppy and the little filly.
Both seemed in good health. Draco turned them around, reluctantly, and steered Hubert towards the raspberries.
When they returned to the cottage, bucket full of raspberries - enough to make a nice batch of jam to last until next summer and with enough berries leftover to bake into pie, which Harry said he didn't need to see to be able to do, "pie crust is a texture thing", he'd said - it was to find Blaise and Pansy at the door.
"What are you doing here?" Draco asked sharply, feeling Harry tense at his back.
"Hello to you too, Draco," Pansy said. "We brought scones and real coffee. What held you up?" she was looking past Draco's shoulder, glee in her eyes. "My, you have company already!"
Draco cursed under his breath. He'd completely forgotten that he'd invited them; it'd been before he found Harry, and with everything that'd happened since, it'd just leaked right out of his brain. "Could we do this another day? Now is not a good time."
"Never is a good time with you, Draco," Blaise commented.
"I'm serious," Draco said. He didn't dismount but he didn't come closer either, maintaining a distance of about five paces between them. He didn't need them to recognise Harry, nor any of the uncomfortable questions that would follow. He turned his head the other way, so he could whisper to Harry without Blaise and Pansy seeing. "Cover your scar."
Harry complied, turning his head the same way and fiddled with his blindfold so that it went a little higher.
"Blaise. Pansy. I'm sorry for being a terrible host, but I have too much on my hands at present. I should've owled you yesterday, only I was busy all day with a sick unicorn and forgot about it." Draco gestured for them to go. There was no real road towards the cottage, but there was a tiny downtrodden path that lead away and into the woods, and if one followed it the path would end at Ruspidge. "I'll owl you with another date?"
Pansy was pursing her lips, eyeing Draco thoughtfully. Her eyes darted to the man seated behind him. "Of course I wouldn't want to intrude," she said, voice laced with sweetness, "but I can't help but think the authorities would be terribly interested in your friend."
Draco paled. "Pansy." He found himself at a loss for words and watched in horror as Blaise turned his keen eyes on Harry.
"What's going on?" Blaise asked. "Care to tell me why the man who's been missing for a good three weeks is with you?" His eyes turned dangerously dark. "Tell me you didn't kidnap him."
"No!" Draco spluttered. "Of course I didn't kidnap him! Thank you, Blaise, for that lovely vote of confidence." He dismounted and helped Harry down. "Come inside, all of you."
"So much for hiding my scar," Harry muttered.
"You've got to admit it looks bad," Pansy pointed out as she followed them inside. "He's blindfolded, for Merlin's sake! You don't blindfold innocent people!"
"I'm blind," Harry snapped at her.
"Yes," Draco confirmed. "Hence the blindfold." He pushed Harry into a chair at the table and gestured for Blaise and Pansy to take their seats. As Draco only had three chairs, he pulled a drawer to the table for himself to sit on. "There's a perfectly good explanation for everything."
Blaise and Pansy shared a look, then Blaise placed the bag of scones and coffee on the table. "We're listening," he said. "Scone, Potter?"
"Who are you?" Harry asked.
Blaise and Pansy shared another look, then levelled that look on Draco.
"He's blind and amnesic," Draco said, going with the simplest explanation, even if inaccurate. "Harry, Blaise and Pansy were in our year at Hogwarts," he said to Harry. "They're my best friends."
Harry nodded. "You know me from school?" he asked.
"And other things," Pansy said. "And the papers, now. Your face is plastered all over them these days." She turned to Draco. "Have you been keeping up, Draco? They think he's dead."
"I'm not dead," Harry said, at the same time as Draco said: "I know."
"Why are you here? Why didn't you go to the authorities?" Blaise was looking at Harry thoughtfully. "Why did you come to Draco, of all people?"
Draco clenched his jaw. He knew Blaise didn't mean it as an insult, but it felt like one all the same.
"I'm here because Draco found me," Harry said. Was Draco imagining it, or did Harry sound angry? "He took me here and treated my injuries. I made him promise not to tell anyone."
"Why?" Blaise pressed.
"Because I'm a retired paranoid Auror," Harry answered. "I've been working on my own case from here. Draco's been helping."
Pansy looked between the two of them. "I don't understand," she said. "If you knew...if you weren't amnesic, you wouldn't...do you know anything at all?"
"About what?" Harry challenged. "About the time I tried to kill him? About the time he tried to kill me?" He leaned over the table, in Pansy's direction. "About the time you tried to hand me over to Voldemort?"
Pansy flinched. Draco gave Harry a sharp look. He'd never told Harry about his friends or their involvement in the war - the only way Harry could know this about Pansy, was if he remembered it on his own accord.
"Don't worry, Parkinson," Harry said, standing up from the table. "I know the important things. I trust Draco. I don't trust you." He strode towards the door. "I'll be in the stable," he said, then left.
Draco rubbed his eyes. "Please don't tell anyone he's here," he eventually said. "He doesn't trust anyone at the moment, and to be honest I don't blame him."
Blaise leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. "Start from the beginning, and don't leave anything out."
The cottage was silent as Draco stared at him. Finally, he drew a deep breath, steeling himself. "Okay," he said, and told them everything he knew.
"Draco." Pansy was the first to speak up, after Draco finished his recounting. "This is serious. What happens when Potter does go to the Aurors? They'll suspect you."
"I know," Draco answered quietly. It was the truth. He'd known from the moment he saw the scar that he could get in trouble. "I know how it looks. But what else would you have expected me to do? I had to help. This is the only way I know how."
"This isn't about that Life Debt you owe him, is it?" Blaise asked.
"No." Draco shook his head. "I think that got cancelled out the moment I picked him up off the forest floor." He gave him a wry smile. "And all the times we've tried to kill each other, before that. Probably."
Pansy was eyeing Draco speculatively. "Are you sleeping with him?"
"What?" Draco choked. "No! Why would you - no! I'm not sleeping with him!"
"Do you want to sleep with him?" she pushed.
Draco's stomach dropped. "Why are you even asking?" he tried to keep the rising panic out of his voice. So what if he did? It wasn't going to happen, and either way it was none of Pansy's business and even if Harry was willing, he still wouldn't because that'd only make this whole mess look worse once the Aurors came - Draco could imagine the headlines all too easily: Former Death Eater Keeps The Golden Boy As A Sex Slave In Forest!. Nevermind that Draco had never taken the mark, his role in the war had been unmistakeable.
"Oh, Draco," Pansy said, pity in her eyes. "This is bad."
"Please just…" Draco swallowed hard. He had had enough of crying, he wasn't going to start again now. "Don't tell anyone. He'll come back when he's ready. In the meantime…" He gestured. "I'll keep him safe here."
"You know, Draco," Blaise said, carefully, as if Draco was a skittish animal, "we don't drag you out to clubs once a month to torture you. We know you're lonely -"
"I'm not lonely," Draco interrupted, feeling hot shame flush his cheeks.
"I'm just saying," Blaise continued, "make sure you're doing this for the right reasons." He paused, considering Draco. Then: "Be careful. What happens when the curse breaks and he gets his memory back? Will he still be your friend then?"
Draco looked away. There was a lump in his throat again, and his cheeks were still flushed red. Blaise was bringing up all the right points, but Draco didn't want to hear it, didn't want to acknowledge that he was right.
He liked this Harry, and what was amazing, Harry seemed to genuinely enjoy his company. It had never happened before, and maybe...just maybe, Draco was hungry for his friendship.
"Please give Greg my regards," Draco finally said, trying to keep his voice in check. "I'll owl you with a new date."
Thus dismissed, Blaise and Pansy got up. They left the (untouched) take away coffee and the (just as untouched) bag of scones on the table.
"Draco," Pansy said and came round to hug him. "Take care of yourself."
He couldn't avoid Harry forever, so when he'd put the groceries away he went to the stable.
"Harry?" He knocked on the doorframe as he stepped inside. Hubert was in his usual spot and he found Harry in the furthermost corner, sitting on a stool and whittling away at a piece of wood with magic. He wasn't using his wand, he just moved his hand over the wood and chips fell to the floor.
"Here," Harry said, not looking up. He held up the rough figurine. "What's it look like?"
"Something round and fat," Draco replied. " A pig without legs, maybe. Or a manatee."
Harry frowned. "It was supposed to be a unicorn."
"It could be a unicorn if you squint," Draco allowed.
Silence hung thickly between them.
"They're gone," Draco eventually said. "They won't tell anyone you're here."
"I've been thinking," Harry said, slowly. "About them. You." He put the figurine in his pocket, but didn't stand up. "I've been trying to reconcile you with my memories of them and I can't make it work."
"They're not awful people."
"Maybe not. But in school…" Harry trailed off. "I've been trying to make the pieces fit, with what you told me and with them, and…" he shrugged. "I must've hated you in school."
"I'm pretty sure you did," Draco agreed, even if it tugged at old wounds inside. "The feeling was mutual."
"But I don't now," Harry pressed on. "I don't remember the old you. I don't know the old you. But I know now-you. I like now-you." He turned his head up in Draco's general direction. "I've decided that the past doesn't matter. It's now that matters."
"How can you just decide that?" Draco stared at him.
"Because I can," Harry said, stubbornly. "I figure if you can remember the actual shit we did to each other and are able to set that aside to treat me instead of leaving me for dead, and let me stay here, and research curses with me, and tell me things and do things with me, like...like friends, then it should be easier for me to do the same thing, right? I have…I had a blank slate with your name on it. I've been filling it up with you, and it's...it's good. Maybe there's one underneath it with ugly things on it, but it'll only matter if I let it, right?"
Draco didn't know what to say to that. The lump was back in his throat, and he didn't quite trust himself to speak.
"To continue with your metaphor there," he said, voice thicker than he wanted it to be, "I suppose I haven't replaced your slate, but just...added to it. None of the ugly parts are gone, but there are more nice parts to balance it out."
Harry nodded, satisfied.
"Come inside," Draco said after a while. "I believe you said you were going to turn those raspberries into pie."
"How come you're so good at cooking?" Draco asked, having demolished half of the large cheese-and-tomato pizza Harry had made. "I'm not terrible myself, but this is really good."
"I enjoy it," Harry told him. "I didn't always. But I'm good at it and it's nice to be good at something, so I cook stuff." He smiled. "It's especially nice when somebody else is there to enjoy what I've cooked."
Draco blushed. Not for the first time, he was really glad Harry couldn't actually see him. It was oddly liberating not having to fight all of his emotions all the time. "I do enjoy your cooking a great deal," he admitted.
Harry finished off the last slice of pizza and Draco made a mental note to acquire some wine for next time. It'd been a while since he'd had any, and as lovely as the pizza was on its own, Draco was sure it would've been even better with a good glass of red to accompany it. He said as much, having overheard Harry grumble about not having any wine on hand to reduce the sauce with.
"Excellent," grinned Harry in reply. "Before you make the order, I have a few other things I want to put on the shopping list."
"Sure," Draco said, feeling his cheeks heat up again. It felt awfully brash to make dinner plans like this. It felt...permanent.
The stack of curse books resting on the floor by Draco's work table hadn't been touched in four days. Harry had accompanied Draco on his trips through the forest, or helped him with the vegetable garden, or Hubert, or around the house, instead of doing curse research.
Harry must've known that Draco would notice he'd let his research slide, but he didn't say anything and Draco didn't want to ask.
"Around this time of year I usually do a perimeter check," Draco said instead. "To check the Muggle repelling wards and reinforce them if need be. It's usually a two to three day trip. Do you want to come along, or do you want to stay here?"
"I'll come," Harry answered without hesitation.
Draco raised an eyebrow at him, but he didn't comment. Instead he cleared the table and did the dishes, and then went over his camping equipment while detailing the route to Harry, and what they could expect.
They set out in the morning on Hubert. Draco had found out very quickly that both of them in one saddle wasn't going to work out, so he'd transfigured the spare saddle to fit two people comfortably, including an extra set of stirrups for Harry. They'd been riding like that for weeks.
There was an option to get a second horse, if not from the official coffers, then at least from the Manor, but Draco had gotten used to Harry's presence at his back. He found he didn't really want to change that arrangement.
The tent wasn't intended for more than one person, so they slept in slightly more cramped conditions than they did in the cottage, but Draco didn't complain.
"You kicked me last night," Harry said as he burrowed under the single blanket they'd brought. There just hadn't been space for more than one, and in conditions as cramped as these, one blanket was enough to cover them.
"Yeah, so did you," Draco retorted. "You've been kicking me every night for almost a month."
Harry went still. "I have?"
"You said you'd kick me out of bed if I did," Harry said, slowly. "Why haven't you?"
Draco shrugged. "I wasn't really going to let you sleep on the floor."
They were shoulder to shoulder, and Draco could feel the warmth of Harry's skin through the cotton of his nightshirt. Harry was quiet for a long time.
"I quit the Aurors because I was tired," he suddenly said. "I just didn't know what to do instead. I've thought about teaching. I've thought about running an orphanage. I've thought about becoming a dragon tamer." He pulled the blanket up higher.
"Thirty is a bit early to have a midlife crisis, isn't it?" Draco commented.
"Maybe. I don't know." Harry turned on his side, facing Draco. He'd done this before, when they had late night talks. It was strange, given that Harry couldn't see him. "I've just been...thinking a lot, lately."
Draco turned too. In this small space, that meant Harry was a lot closer than usual. He felt his bare legs against his own and resisted the temptation to tangle them together. "What have you been thinking?"
Harry did that thing with his mouth. "I've been thinking that I don't care about the curse anymore. I don't need to break it."
"What do you mean?" Draco frowned. "You're blind. You have lost some pretty important memories. People," he said. "People who care about you, who you care about."
"I know." Harry worried his lip. "It's just that all this time has shown me that I can function like this. I don't need to see to do stuff. And I'm - afraid. I'm worried that if the curse breaks that things will change between us."
Draco stared. "Things will change," he said. "You can't stay with me in the cottage forever. If you don't want to break the curse, fine. But you should go home. You should be with your friends and family."
"But what if I want to stay?" Harry sounded so earnest that Draco's heart had fluttered up into his throat.
"Stay?" Draco fought to keep control of his voice. If it was possible to keep Harry - this Harry - forever, would he do it? It was tempting, oh, so tempting, but he couldn't. He couldn't possibly be so selfish. "What do you mean, stay? Are you going to play dead to the rest of the world? You can't do that."
"Would that be so bad?" Harry put his hand over his scar to cover it. "Couldn't I retire this, and get a new start? A blank slate?"
"It doesn't work like that." Draco swallowed. "My cottage isn't some fairytale paradise where nothing bad ever happens and you can live happily ever after."
Harry shrugged. "It feels a lot like it is," he said, softly. "I even have a fairytale prince to keep me company."
Draco felt all his walls crumble. Could he really have this? Could he be happy with Harry in the forest? It was dark in the tent, but not so dark he couldn't see the curve of Harry's bottom lip, or the soft line of his jaw.
He couldn't do it. Not like this. Not when Harry didn't know him - all of him. It didn't matter that Harry didn't care, because Draco did, and it didn't feel right. It felt deceitful and wrong and fragile, like one of those Muggle snowglobes Pansy had once given him. It had broken and all the glitter had seeped out onto the floor, leaving behind a fake plastic scenery and broken glass.
"No," Draco said, feeling his heart tear at the seams at what he was about to do. "Listen to me carefully. In one week I'm turning you in. If not to the Aurors, then to your family. You trust them, even if you don't remember it, and they love you. They'll help."
Harry'd been about to protest, but he shut his mouth. Then: "Why one week? Why not tomorrow?"
"Because I'm too selfish and ignoble to do the right thing right away," Draco told him. His heart was breaking into tiny little pieces and settling in his stomach, heavier than they had any right to be. "I want to hang on to your fairytale paradise for a little longer." His voice cracked on the last word.
"No," Draco repeated, then turned all the way around. He didn't trust himself to look at Harry anymore, and he was fighting to not cry; Harry would notice and Draco didn't want him to. He wanted to try to pick up the little heart pieces and try to put them back in the right place, try to convince himself that he could be okay.
After a little while, Harry crawled out of the tent. He took a cloak and pulled it around himself, but he didn't go far - Draco heard him prod at the fire.
It was a long while before he found any sleep.
Draco allowed himself five seconds to look at him, to watch his chest rise and fall with every breath, his half open mouth and his arm, with the fading scars from his week wandering the forest. A bit of sunlight was filtering in through the tent opening, painting his face golden, tiny sparkles lightening up on his cheek.
That was odd. Draco peered closer. Harry appeared to have gold dust on his cheek. Not wanting to wake him, Draco didn't investigate further, and instead slipped out of the tent as quietly as he could. He'd solve the gold dust mystery later.
Bob was standing next to Hubert and the two seemed to be having some kind of horsey conversation Draco couldn't follow. He quickly changed out of his nightshirt and cap and into clothes and boots, then wandered over.
"Morning," he murmured, reaching up to pat Bob. "What brings you here?"
He didn't get a response, not even a soft whinny. Bob nudged his chest, then his face. Then he nudged Draco's chest again.
"You're far too clever for your own good." Draco had no tears left, so he rested his forehead against Bob's, gently petting him. It was little comfort, but Draco could take everything he could get. Once Harry was gone, this was all he would have left, so he might as well get used to it.
Draco drew in a deep breath in an attempt to steel himself. "Yes, Harry?" He didn't move from Bob, who was uncharacteristically still.
"Draco, look at me." Harry's voice was odd, but Draco didn't trust himself to actually look.
"No, you aren't." Harry's voice was still odd, and now Draco heard him take a few steps closer. "Look."
This time Draco looked, and he was not prepared for what he saw.
Harry had taken the blindfold off. He was looking at Draco - straight at him - and his eyes were green, and clear and they were looking at him.
"How…?" Draco lifted a hand as if to reach for him, but then forced himself to let it drop.
A smile spread on Harry's lips. "It happened last night." He came closer, touched his fingers to his cheek and rubbed the gold dust onto them. "See. It was the golden tears curse."
The golden tears curse. Draco only vaguely remembered it as one of the curses they'd researched and dismissed. When broken, the blindness would lift in the form of three golden tears. There hadn't been a mention of amnesia, locked memories or any other kind of mental tampering, though, so they'd not considered it further.
Draco looked at Harry, the smile on his lip and the twinkle in his eyes. He'd never seen that twinkle before. He'd imagined it, plenty of times, when Harry had made a joke or teased him or otherwise had been amused, but he'd never seen it. He never wanted it to go away.
"I remember everything," Harry told him. "And I still want to stay."
Today was two weeks. Two weeks of frying his own eggs and going alone on circuits and repairing the stable door again, because Hubert didn't know when to stop kicking, and picking cherries and apples from the good spots.
Draco was pitting and halving about twenty pounds of cherries to be pickled, covered in booze, or turned into jam, when he heard steps outside the cottage. A few moments later, Bob poked his head inside the open door and whinnied in greeting.
"Hello, there," Draco said, wiping his hands on a dish towel. "What news for me today?"
Bob backed out of the doorway and Draco followed him, curious about what was up. It didn't seem like there was a problem; Bob was nowhere near as anxious as he would ordinarily be. He whinnied again and tossed his head towards the path to Ruspidge.
There was somebody approaching the cottage, large duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Draco froze in place, watching him draw near. His heart fluttered, already on the mend, in little painful bursts. When Harry was two paces away, he dropped the duffel bag and stepped up to Draco.
"You came back," Draco said. The final pieces of his heart swam up from his stomach up to the centre of his chest and lodged themselves in place. His heart was beating so hard Draco wasn't sure it wouldn't break all over again.
Harry was smiling. "Of course I came back," he said and swept Draco into his arms.