The bird fell just as Harry took a step back. His intention had been to escape the increasingly assertive grasp of one Spencer McSullivan, who had spent the better part of dinner and the walk afterwards assailing Harry with supposedly fun facts about the regulation of growth enhancement charms for root vegetables. Harry was so bored that he thought at first the sound might have been his own head hitting the ground as he passed out from a sheer lack of will to go on.
But no. It was a bird, and it hit the pavement outside number 34 Grimmauld Place with a heavy, wet thud.
Harry looked to the sky, then to the bird, to McSullivan (whose focus seemed hardly to have wavered as he gazed at Harry with such unrestrained awe that it left him nauseous), back to the sky, and to the bird again. Harry remained dumbfounded, however, and a bit frozen with shock until he saw a thin trail of blood roll down the pavement, seeming to come from the ground-facing side of the bird. Its chest was, just barely but very rapidly, rising and falling.
He bent, slipped both arms underneath the bird’s limp body, and lifted it, quite tenderly, into the space between him and McSullivan.
“Er…” he managed. “So sorry, I’ve got to…” he trailed off and nodded to the bird.
“Such a hero,” McSullivan half-whispered. He shivered – Harry hoped very much it was due to the cold – and gave the unconscious bird a watery and one-sidedly conspiratorial smile. “Our savior.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably and tried not to wish the bird had hit McSullivan. “It’s bleeding. And it can’t have that much blood to begin with. So. I’d better go in a bit of a hurry.” He took a wide step around McSullivan, barely avoiding the fingertips grasping at his coat. “Apparition point’s that way!” He pointed a shoulder at the park down the street and took off at a clip, disappearing behind his Fidelius charm as quickly as he could manage.
Once inside number 12, he kicked the door shut, looked down, and realised – fully, for the first time – that he was holding a large, unconscious, bird in his arms.
Clearly, the only thing to do was call Hermione. Which meant Ron, too. And to call Luna, and since she was still at work that meant Dean as well. He wished, more often than not, that the public understood how much of his supposed heroism consisted of having the best friends a bloke could ask for.
They all tumbled through his Floo within five minutes and stood clustered around the bird, which Harry had lain atop the dining room table, wrapped in one of old Walburga’s tablecloths. Harry’d spotted a wound below the bird’s crooked wing as he wrapped it, and it was slowly staining the graying lace red – a touch that Harry didn’t think the Black ancestors would mind too terribly.
“I only had a moment to look, but I think it may be an egret,” Hermione offered.
“No,” Luna replied, lifting her spectrespecs to sit atop her head. “Platalea Magicum.”
Dean hummed next to her. “Yeah, I reckon so. Drew a few of these down the shore in Norfolk this summer.”
“Platalea Magicum?” Hermione frowned. “I don’t know that one. Platalea leucorodia, of course, and Platalea ajaja but—”
“It’s a naming thing,” Ron offered. “Magicum. The magical versions of Muggle animals. Serpens Magicum, Ursus Magicum—”
“Magical bears?” Hermione turned to him, eyebrows raised.
“Sure.” Ron shrugged. “Didn’t think humans were the only ones who had magical versions popping up here and there, did you?”
Hermione blinked, frowned, and conjured a notepad and pen. “How common would you say this is among supposedly Muggle beasts and beings?”
“Can it wait till Monday, love?” Ron asked.
Harry cleared his throat before she could answer. “About the uh, magical plate bleeding on my dining table?”
“Platalea Magicum,” Luna corrected.
“Muggles call them spoonbills,” said Dean. “You could try that. Magical spoonbills.”
“Right, great. The magical spoonbill that’s bleeding all over my dining room table?”
“There’s only one thing for it, clearly,” said Luna.
Dean rested a hand on her arm. “Luna, do you really think…?”
“I’m not sure that’s wise,” Hermione piped up as Dean trailed off. “Or perhaps you or Dean might take him. Or me, if necessary.”
Harry caught Ron’s eye and was relieved to see his own confusion reflected back there.
Luna hummed before he had a chance to put the question into words. “Yes, Dean, I think so. No, Hermione, I don’t think so. I think…” She studied Harry carefully for a moment just long enough that he had to resist the urge to squirm. “I think Harry’s got to go, and there’s nowhere else that can do the job.”
Harry wondered why he was the only one worried about the bleeding. Luna was almost preternaturally calm, even more so than usual. It was a bit creepy, all things considered. And though he seemed to be the only one really noticing it, the presence of the bird wasn’t doing much for the atmosphere.
“Harry,” Luna began.
“Yes?” He jumped at the sound of his name, as a sense of unease crept up his spine.
“Magical spoonbills are exceedingly rare. The whole species is on the verge of extinction and to find a successfully fledged adult, let alone a magical one, is of extraordinary import. You see, their feathers can be used—”
“Luna.” Dean squeezed her arm and gestured to the bird. “A bit time sensitive?”
Harry was deeply relieved that someone else had noticed.
Luna blinked. “Yes. Of course. There is only one conservationist in England who I trust to handle this correctly. You’ll have to go to Norfolk.”
“Okay?” Harry remained unclear as to why Norfolk suddenly merited such gravity.
“Or I can go,” Hermione interrupted. “And Ron, I’m sure. Right Ron?”
“Maybe, if someone will say what the problem with Norfolk is,” Ron answered.
Harry had the best friends.
“Norfolk’s lovely,” Dean answered. “Nothing wrong with Norfolk. It’s more the conservationist, I think.”
“It’s Malfoy,” Hermione burst out.
The name echoed through Harry’s head and his confusion hardened into something else. Surely everyone wasn’t being so delicate over Malfoy? They hadn’t even laid eyes on each other in the better part of a decade, and Harry had barely thought of him since. Barely even cared at the time, really.
Stubbornness – that was the feeling, he decided. He gathered the bird in his arms. “Not a problem. Coordinates?”
“Harry,” Hermione warned. “I really think it would be best if—”
“Mate,” Ron tried. “‘Mione might have a point here, all things considered.”
“Harry,” Dean chimed in, with a sideways look at Luna. “We work with him regularly, it makes far more sense for it to be one of us.”
Harry locked eyes with Luna. “I’ve got a bleeding magical spoonbill in my arms and I hear that’s quite rare and important. Coordinates?”
“52.9630 North, .6042 east. It’s the Titchwell Marsh Reserve, and you’ll need to walk down the boardwalk toward Fen Hide. There will be signs. Draco’s veterinary clinic is Disillusioned, but attached.”
“And he’ll be there?”
“I’ll send word now.”
Harry nodded at her, studiously avoided everyone else, and Disapparated away with a pop.
It was dark and cold when Harry popped back into existence, and the air was damp and thick with salt. There was a cover of thin, scraggly trees, and Harry quickly realised he’d been lucky not to end up in one of them, or ankle deep in the marshland that lay just beyond. As it was, both feet were planted firmly on the boardwalk, and there was a building, barely more than a shack, just beyond the trees and outlined by a waxing moon. He held the bird to his chest and reach for his wand to cast a Lumos.
He walked towards the building until he felt Malfoy’s wards wash over him. The building quadrupled in size and an archway appeared. It led, he discovered, to a small, dark waiting room. In the light of his Lumos, he could see a wooden bench against one wall, and he took a seat, cradling the bird in his elbow and just barely fending off the urge to reassure it that everything would be all right.
He was glad he hadn’t started talking to it when the lights flipped on, washing the room in a clinical brightness that left him blinking furiously, and Malfoy stormed through the door.
Malfoy looked exactly and not at all how Harry remembered him. His jaw was just as sharp, but it moved with less viciousness. His eyes were as bright, but not as cold. He wore jeans and wellies and a sweater that had been pulled over a shirt, and while Harry thought it might be cashmere it was more clearly evident that Malfoy had been in such a rush that half the collar of his shirt had got caught and remained stuck down beneath the wool. It was clearly posh, but unaffected, and Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that, but he thought he could feel the bird’s chest rising and falling against his own, and that was something.
“Give me the bird.”
Harry blinked again and hugged the bird closer. “What?”
“Don’t crush the creature, for fuck’s sake. Give it here.”
“Yes, Luna’s sent ahead her Patronus and explained. I’ll take it.”
“But,” Harry scrambled, feeling his stubbornness take fresh aim and suddenly awash in the absolute conviction that he wouldn’t hand the bird over to Malfoy without ever seeing it again, “don’t you need to know what happened?”
“No,” Malfoy snapped. “Not beyond what I know or can tell from an exam. Unless you want it to die of suffocation on top of an injury, give it over.”
“But I want to know what happens to it.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Die, if it doesn’t get care soon.”
Panic mingled with the obstinacy that stuck to Harry’s ribs. “No.”
“Your refusal to die isn’t transferrable, Potter.”
A strong urge to hit things joined the rumble in Harry’s chest. “I’m coming back to watch.”
“Absolutely not. It’s not a bloody TV show.”
Harry didn’t stop to ask when Malfoy had started comparing things to TV shows so casually. “It’s my bloody bird.”
“It fell out of the sky! And the way you’re going, bleeding will be the last thing it ever does!”
Harry looked down at the lump of feathers and felt the bird's remaining warmth in his hands. “I need to know it’s all right.”
“Potter, if you don’t hand it over right now, it won’t be, and you may well be responsible for the extinction of a magical species.”
“I…” Harry waffled. Momentarily. The mélange in his chest was good for his resolve. “So will you, if you don’t stop arguing with me.”
“Bloody buggering fuck.” Malfoy turned and strode from the room.
After a moment’s consideration, Harry thought it best for all involved if he took that as a yes.
There was an avian nursery of sorts behind the doors, with half a dozen birds dozing in cages that Harry thought looked surprisingly cozy, something he associated with neither birds nor Malfoy. He discovered a supply closet and a loo before trying the right door, beyond which Malfoy was pulling on a lab coat and casting cleaning spells on a gurney.
“Put it there,” Malfoy ordered, covering the gurney in a Summoned sheet.
Harry squinted at Malfoy, but did it. He did not, however, step backwards, no matter how expectantly and impatiently Malfoy stared at him.
“Merlin and Circe both,” Malfoy muttered. He shook his head and began to pull apart the ends of the tablecloth.
Harry thought, with a bit of self-satisfaction, that he seemed about as unbothered by blood as one ought to expect from someone with a leaf on the Black family tree.
He was less sure of what to do with the fact that Malfoy was so careful about it.
Beneath the stained linen, the bird had begun to tremble. Malfoy cursed under his breath and cast a charm, which seemed to put it into stasis. That spell was followed by another, and then another, and Harry was so entranced by the web of colourful charmwork that he was surprised when Malfoy pulled out a scalpel and trailed it carefully over the bird’s flank just until he could, with the very tip of his wand, extract a few bits of birdshot, and then a few more. He seemed to sigh with relief when a line of charms above the bird’s wing changed from orange to blue, and his mouth softened into something like a smile when his next attempt to remove shrapnel came up empty.
Malfoy threaded a needle and sewed the wound shut with tiny, careful stitches. He bent closely over it and held the tip of his tongue between his front teeth as he worked, then stood back to levitate the bird and spread its wings. Harry was almost certain he heard Malfoy apologise to the unconscious spoonbill when he snapped its wing back into place and wrapped it, with visible tenderness, in tape. He summoned a phial from a nearby closet and, with just the tip of a finger, pulled at the bird’s bill until it was open just enough to slip the phial’s contents inside. When he shut the bill, he gave it a kind sort of caress.
The whole thing made Harry uneasy.
It didn’t get any better when Malfoy set the bird gently back on the gurney and looked up. As soon as he saw Harry, Harry saw the smile snap off his face. The only refuge he found – and it didn’t feel very much like refuge at all – was the return of the familiar coldness he’d been expecting in Malfoy’s eyes.
“It will live,” Malfoy said. And then levitated it again and moved it, and himself, to the recovery room.
Harry’s head spun. He looked around the clinic slowly, as though there might be some telling hint in the organisation of gauze or placement of surgical supplies.
He followed Malfoy through to the recovery room and saw Malfoy’s spine stiffen as soon as the door swung open. It rankled deep in Harry’s gut and he felt as though his concern for the bird was the only thing keeping him from snapping.
Malfoy’s shoulders tensed as he took a step closer, and that last thread gave. “Fuck’s sake, Malfoy! I brought it in, I just want to see how it is!”
“Brought it in in some condition!” Malfoy turned to face him, his body blocking the spoonbill from view.
Harry goggled. “I didn’t do anything to it! Or you, for that matter!”
Malfoy laughed. It was incredulous and a little crazed, and Harry thought he saw the cages give a bit of a rattle. “You—” Malfoy tried. “You—You didn’t. Of course you didn’t.” He laughed again. “Never. Of course. Of course.” He shook his head.
Harry knit his brow. “It fell out of the sky! I just wanted to help!”
Malfoy laughed again and Harry thought he heard a tinge of Bellatrix in it, high pitched and half-mad. Malfoy didn’t speak, only shook his head slowly and stared as his laughter gave way to an incredulous huff. It unnerved Harry even more to see Malfoy either unable or unwilling to engage.
“You can’t seriously think I hurt the bird!” He insisted, hoping at least for some responses to that.
“Of course.” Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “You would never. Never hurt a living thing. Never.”
“That’s right!” Harry’s stomach curdled as he said it.
Suddenly, Malfoy looked more tired than anything, and when he told Harry it was time to go, Harry went.
It was well into the wee hours by the time Harry got home. Far too late to Floo anyone, and he had work in the morning besides.
Sleep was a lost cause, though. After an hour’s worth of futile attempts, he gave up. He did a hundred press ups and caught up on the last week’s worth of the Prophet. He wondered if Malfoy would take a donation of back issues, as he was quickly reminded that the Prophet was best suited for lining birdcages. He went to clean the last of the spoonbill’s blood off the pavement where it had fallen; it was a matter of dignity, he thought, and of not scaring children, and those were things he was very much in favour of, right alongside not hurting things. He cleaned a stubborn spot off the hem of his Auror robes and admitted that the statement might need amending, but it was still true that he wouldn’t hurt a living thing if he could avoid it. Of course it was a different thing if someone was firing Unforgiveables at him, or if he was caught in battle, or if one of his spells rebounded, or if it was unavoidable in some other way, but he’d worked damned hard to accept that he wasn’t a terrible person or responsible for all those deaths he hadn’t been able to stop during the war, and he wasn’t going to let some throwaway comment of Malfoy’s set him back. He reorganised his pants and socks and made a fry-up and decided that yes, that was right, and if Malfoy couldn’t see it that way, that was Malfoy’s problem.
He went off to work with a spring in his step. Granted, it felt a bit forced, but still. Spring.
It lasted all of seven minutes, or about as long as it took him to walk from the Atrium to his office. There were three fragrant, expansive bouquets set unevenly on his desk, each of them, according to the very affectionate cards, from McSullivan.
He’d forgotten who McSullivan even was. Forgotten that there was a McSullivan. The reverse was obviously untrue, and alongside Malfoy’s comments it left him feeling decidedly wrong-footed.
When paperwork proved futile, he sent his Patronus off to Hermione to ask if he’d ever hurt Malfoy.
Ten minutes later, an otter perched on the edge of his desk. “Don’t you think that’s a question for him?”
It was not helpful. Harry sent his Patronus to Luna with the same question, and went to the loo.
When he got back, a silver hare was trying in vain to eat the ferns that were wedged between McSullivan’s roses. It looked up curiously as soon as Harry entered, and Luna’s voice poured out of it. “When spoonbills look for a mate, they engage in the same bill-clatter, snapping, and trumpeting used during confrontations.”
The hare dissolved. Harry had the feeling it had been more than a wildlife fact, but even for Luna it was cryptic.
Dean was next on his list. A fox came right back to him and told Harry it would be hard for any of Harry’s friends to tell him, since he’d kept it all so close to the chest.
A horse from Ginny said about the same thing, as did a weasel from George, a dragonfly from Angelina, and a smaller fox from Seamus.
He almost gave up when Padma came from next door to tell him it was DMLE headquarters, not a bloody zoo, and he should get a damn charmed mobile like the rest of the world. When he asked her about Malfoy, her glower turned into something he couldn’t quite place and she went on a bit about how they’d barely known each other then and while it hadn’t seemed particularly pretty, how was she supposed to know?
Harry offered her one of the bouquets as an apology for the unexpected Patronus menagerie and waited the better part of the day before he sent his stag off again.
He wasn’t sure why he’d saved Ron for last, except that he wasn’t likely to find a great deal of delicacy there. But he didn’t need delicacy, he decided. He needed answers. He gave his Patronus strict instructions to go through the ceiling instead of through or past Padma’s office, and waited.
Ron’s Jack Russell came bounding through his and Padma’s shared wall a few minutes later, and he heard Padma throw something at it. Before he could get up to apologise, the terrier planted itself on his desk and fixed him with a searching look. It looked like it was about to bark, but Ron’s voice came through instead. “D’you mean when you cut him open? Or after the war when you… you know? Lemme know and I’ll think on it. Oh, and let me know about the Cannons tickets, too!”
Harry planted his face on his desk and lifted an arm only to levitate another one of the bouquets into Padma’s office.
Harry dreamed of Malfoy that night, and the next, and the one after that, and the one after that, each night’s adventures more surreal than the last.
They were 21 again and sneaking out of a window at a Ministry fundraiser, the hunted look on Malfoy’s face fading away as Harry held out a hand to help him over the sill.
They were meeting in the alley behind The Leaky, Harry grabbing Malfoy’s hand and pulling him towards the Muggle world, and then they were in a pub in Soho and Malfoy’s eyes were going wide at the sight of two men kissing, and Harry was reaching for him to say it was okay, and he leaned in closer to whisper it over the din, closer and closer until Harry thought he might do what he’d not yet done outside of dreams, and then the room fell away, and Harry was falling and falling.
They were falling together and Malfoy’s hand was just out of reach, and Harry stretched and stretched until he could feel the heat of Malfoy’s fingertips and as soon as they touched, they were in sand, and instead of falling Harry felt like he was sinking, everything wet and heavy and the wind coming off some invisible ocean like a slap in the face.
They were flying over the charred ruin of the Room of Requirement, Malfoy’s fingers digging into the space between Harry’s ribs so tightly he felt like his chest might be prised open, and cinders still popped under a layer of ash, and a piece of smoldering wood fell from the ceiling and Harry swerved, turning his broom to avoid it, and instead it hit Malfoy’s side, just below his arm, and he was falling off Harry’s broom, falling away into the ash, and Harry reached and reached but every time he thought he might get close enough, another piece of the ceiling broke off and threatened to burn him, and then Malfoy was covered in ash, and then he was gone.
Harry’s heart was racing when he woke Saturday morning. He opened his eyes into the pillow and didn’t even feel especially ridiculous for finding it difficult to look at his ceiling.
He needed to get out of the house. Needed fresh air.
He’d thought of the Burrow until the last second before he disappeared into the ether. His mind was overcome so quickly that the first thing he wondered, upon reappearing on the boardwalk, was whether he’d splinched himself. He’d heard both feet hit the ground, and it felt like all organs were accounted for. He was feeling for his eyebrows when he noticed something in the air out beyond Malfoy’s surgery.
It didn’t seem to be moving, as a bird would, nor was it a trick of the light. It was just suspended there, unnaturally, and Harry was overcome by cold fright and the urge to run towards whatever it was that was hovering, potentially helpless, above the marsh.
He took off at a sprint along the boardwalk, then through one side of the wards and out the other. He pulled up short when he got to the reed beds.
Malfoy was standing there, quite calmly, shin-deep in the water, with his wand pointed up at what Harry realised was the spoonbill.
Harry splashed into the reeds before he could think better of it. The water was freezing and filled his trainers instantly, but it didn’t matter. He had to know what Malfoy was up to.
“Malfoy,” he yelled, trying not to flinch as he waded deeper and the water soaked the hem of his jeans. “Put the bird—”
“Shhhhhhh!” Malfoy hissed, holding out his free hand to signal that Harry should stay where he was. “You’ll ruin it!”
Harry tripped to a stop beside him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Shut up,” Malfoy whisper-yelled. “Now!”
Harry was so busy trying to come up with reasons not to that he didn’t notice he had until Malfoy whispered a grumpy, “Now stay that way.”
Above them, the bird suddenly stirred and began to move its healthy wing.
“That’s it,” Malfoy murmured. “Come on now.”
“What are you—”
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” Malfoy repeated.
Harry crossed his arms.
The spoonbill’s wing stretched slowly to its full length. Harry had had no idea it was that big—4 feet at least—when its body had been so small in his arms.
Slowly, the bird extended its other wing. A line of tape still ran across the top, and Harry almost thought he saw the bird flinch, but the injured wing got almost as long as the first.
“That’s right,” Malfoy murmured, “good.”
Harry knit his brow as his stomach roiled with something that he felt quite sure was confusion.
Malfoy tightened his grip on his wand and began to move it, very slowly, up and down. Harry quickly realised that the bird was moving with it.
It seemed to struggle at first, giving a weak cry as its injured wing met even the slightest resistance from the air. But it calmed down as Malfoy whispered reassurances, and a few minutes in it gave a tentative flap, and then another. They went on like that, Malfoy and the spoonbill, for another few minutes, and then Malfoy began to lower it. It drew its wings into its body and let Malfoy direct it into his free arm. “Good,” Malfoy purred. “Beautifully done, Edgar.”
Harry began to wonder if he’d accidentally Apparated to another dimension. “Edgar?”
Malfoy looked up, startled, and his soft smile turned to a scowl. “Piss off.” He curled around the bird protectively and stomped past Harry, back towards the hide.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Harry followed. “What were you doing?”
Malfoy picked up his pace.
His shoulders stiffened, but Malfoy didn’t slow in the least.
“Malfoy, I’m just curious.” Harry could see Malfoy shake his head furiously, but if he said anything Harry couldn’t hear it.
The wards prickled against Harry’s skin just after the hide came into view. Malfoy was on the boardwalk now, rushing towards the archway, and Harry worried that if he didn’t catch up before Malfoy reached it, he might be shut out entirely.
He started to jog. The weight of his soggy jeans made every step a labour, and he cursed his lack of foresight when he barely managed to run through the archway in time see Malfoy slam the back room’s door shut behind him.
It wouldn’t open. His instincts were still right, technically, but the first set. The ones about being shut out entirely. He pushed his whole weight against it, but he could tell the resistance was more magical than physical. He thought about banging, and it was only the memory of the spoonbill—Edgar, apparently—crying out as he stretched his wing that kept Harry from trying to charm his way in.
Fine, then. Malfoy wouldn’t let him in. That didn’t mean he was giving up. He planted himself on the wooden bench and waited.
And started to wonder if Malfoy didn’t have a flat attached somewhere, or if he’d just Apparated away.
He leapt to his feet at the sudden sound of footsteps, and jumped almost out of his skin when a soft voice came from behind him.
He turned, pulling his wand out along the way, only to find himself aiming it at Luna.
She gave him a sympathetic smile and held out her hand. “Let’s take a walk.”
“But the bird.” He gestured towards the door with his wand.
Luna took his hand gently and aimed his wandpoint at the floor. “He’s fine, Harry. Doing very well. Come, walk with me and I’ll tell you more.”
As much as he wanted to stay, she’d never led him wrong. He holstered his wand and nodded reluctantly.
“Wonderful.” She held out a hand and he took it.
They walked together through the archway, and the cold of the water reminded Harry why he’d come in the first place. “I just wanted some fresh air,” he told her. “I didn’t even mean to come here. I was going to go to the Burrow, and then at the last minute…” He trailed off, then fell into step beside her and started up again. “And once I was here, I saw something in the sky and got curious, and there was Malfoy, with the bird, and he wouldn’t tell me anything about what he was doing and whether he was hurting it. He wouldn’t even look at me, and I—”
“Why does that bother you?”
Harry frowned. “He fell out of the sky, clearly in need of help, and then just disappears? It’s not unreasonable to want to know how he is.”
“Hmm. Perhaps not. But it seems as though you want to know more than whether he’s okay.”
“Well.” Harry crossed his arms. “Maybe he’s not okay. Maybe Malfoy’s lying. Or maybe he’s partially okay, but not as okay as it might look at first, and it may have been chance that I’m the one that found him, but I did, and I—” He sighed and fixed Luna with a beseeching look. “You know I’m not one to give up on that kind of thing.”
“On the bird?” Luna stopped and turned to face him.
“The—” Harry frowned. “Of course the bird.”
“Hmmm.” She took him by the arm and started walking again, down the boardwalk and deeper into the preserve than he’d yet gone. “As best Draco can tell, Edgar was—”
“Edgar? He’s really calling it Edgar? Why Edgar?”
“Was flying south for the winter. Only about twenty of them winter here, and Edgar’s magic would make the long flight easier for him. The presence of spoonbills in the UK is still a bit hush-hush; it’s less likely that he was hunted than that he ran into a bit of bad luck and encountered a hunting party that mistook him for game. That would explain the presence of buckshot. If he put himself into a defensive stasis—they can do that, Platalea Magicum; Cardeulis Magicum and Cygnus Magicum too.” She patted his arm and then let it go. “Goldfinches and swans. Then he would have been able to coast for quite some time, in hopes of landing somewhere safer. Which he managed, in a sense. Quite a bit safer than coming down in the middle of a hunting party, don’t you think?”
Harry nodded, but Luna started back up before he could ask any questions.
“As for why he fell when he did, it’s either the case that he was drawn to your magic or that it was pure chance.” She shrugged. “Either way, it’s good you found him and good you called. Draco’s surgery was a success.”
“Draco,” Harry repeated. “Why do you call him Draco?”
“And as you saw earlier,” she continued, “Draco’s in the process of beginning practical rehabilitation so that Edgar will regain full use of his wing.”
“Edgar. Draco. Do I need a new name too?”
“No,” Luna answered. “Harry suits you. The rehabilitation process will go on a week or two, with progressively longer periods of time in the air, then shorter supervised flights, then longer flights. Draco may try to convince Edgar to winter on the reserve here. There’s quite a lot to eat in the reed beds.
“So you see, Harry, Edgar is quite all right. I’ve seen him, and we only thought of Draco in the first place because he’s the best at what he does. Quite caring with the animals, and very dedicated to the cause of conservation, magical and Muggle. Edgar is in good hands.”
They walked on in silence. Marshes stretched out to either side of the path and sandy dunes rose up on the horizon. The sun was still low in the sky and the air was biting off the water. He thought his toes might freeze off, but he hoped it was the cold that was making him feel so uneasy.
Hoped, but didn’t believe.
“Your feet must be cold.”
Harry hummed his agreement and tightened his arms around himself.
“Here.” Luna stopped them, took out her wand, and waved a complicated pattern at Harry’s feet. It made them dry and warm, and Harry felt as though he should relax into it, but relaxing still felt quite out of the question.
“Thanks,” he managed.
“You’re very welcome.” She took his arm and led him further, almost until the boardwalk was buried in sand and it was just the dunes, and beyond that the sound of the North Sea.
“You know about the bird, now. Do you feel any better?”
Harry nodded, squinting against the wind.
“That wasn’t a very good question,” Luna mused. “Do you feel satisfied?”
Harry shrugged. Luna could be a bit daft at times, but she’d never knowingly lie to him and he wouldn’t betray that trust.
“There’s someone else we could have taken Edgar to, if we’d had to. A magical veterinarian who handles birds and reptiles in Manchester. Not a conservationist, and none of Draco’s expertise in Muggle methods, and not as good a habitat for a spoonbill’s recovery, but he would have got the job done, I’m sure. Would you have preferred that to Draco?”
“It’s not about Malfoy.” Harry felt heavy and tired and he almost wished he was back in bed.
Luna hummed. “Isn’t it?”
“No.” Harry turned to begin the walk back. “I’m cold.”
“You could cast a Warming Charm,” Luna said from a few paces behind him.
He shrugged. “S’pose.”
“Do you have other questions about Edgar’s health?”
“Why?” The weight in his chest began to coil into something sharp and taut. “Because Malfoy won’t be in the same room with me? He’s made you his designated go-between?”
“Harry—” Luna began, her voice low and gentle.
“Because he won’t even see me? Just tells me to shut up and piss off or acts like I’m not even there, when I— when I—” He let out a frustrated growl and tugged at his hair. “When everyone’s tiptoeing around it like there’s some big fucking secret and no one will even tell me why. It’s all ‘Shut up, Potter!’ and spoonbill fun facts, and I’ve no bloody clue why he’s being such a fucking arsehole.”
“Ah,” she said softly. “I thought you knew.”
He gave her a look that he hoped conveyed all his exasperation and perhaps a bit of anger, too.
“Maybe not in so many words,” she admitted. “But I thought—I think we all thought—you knew.”
“Obviously fucking not.” The wind bit at his back and he pulled his shoulders up around his ears.
“Hermione didn’t say anything?”
“Said I should ask him.”
“Ah. I see. Dean? Ginny? Angelina?”
Harry shook his head once.
He hunched deeper into his collar and walked on.
“I see. Harry, I think you’d better come for dinner.” Luna’s voice was rich with concern.
It was the only reason he didn’t snap at her. “Dinner.”
To his consternation, Harry couldn’t think of any reason to say no to dinner, or to Luna’s suggestion that he should go home without stopping back at the hide.
It felt more like walking to his death than Apparating to dinner, and Harry figured he was one of very few people who could make the comparison with authority. The major difference seemed to be that no one had expected him to bring a nice bottle of wine to death.
Luna wasn’t the sort of friend who usually bothered with doors, or expected anyone else to, but Harry almost wished he’d gone for formality when he appeared with a pop and saw everyone in the room pause mid-sentence. He was relieved it was just Luna and Ron and Hermione, though the level of nervous concern vibrating through the room had him more on edge than he could remember being in ages.
He held up the bottle to the silent room. “Wine?”
Luna rose gracefully from an ottoman and traded him the bottle for a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Harry. Have a seat, won’t you?”
He looked around the room. “Might be faster if I stand against the wall and let all of you fire at once.”
“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed.
She looked so aghast that he took a seat.
“So,” he tried. “How about those Falcons?”
“Yeah!” Ron leaned forward excitedly. “That Dunbar Roll half an hour in was epic and…er…” He looked down sheepishly and Harry traced it back to a very cross Hermione.
“It’s hardly the time,” she said.
“Always time for Quidditch,” Ron mumbled.
Harry had really good friends, he reminded himself. Most of the time.
Luna handed him a glass of wine and turned to face the room. “It seems as though we’ve all been a bit evasive, and it might be best to clear the air whilst we’re all in one place. Shall we?”
Harry took a deep sip. A gulp, even.
“Harry,” Hermione began with uncharacteristic timidity. “Were you and Malfoy, back then, after the trials… what I mean to say is, were you lovers?”
“What?” Harry croaked. “No?"
She shifted uncomfortably. “You weren’t, then?”
“Why would you think that?” Of all the things he’d imagined, that wouldn’t have made the top ten.
“Well, it’s just… There was a period of time when…” She sighed.
“When you and Draco were quite close,” Luna finished.
“Close?” Harry repeated.
“After the trials,” Ron added, shifting uncomfortably. “A couple years after. There was that Ministry thing, for the, um?” He looked to Hermione.
“Standardisation of magical primary education.”
“Yeah, that. Malfoy went and looked about as comfortable as if he’d sat on a Skrewt, and he disappeared to the loo, and then you did, and neither of you came back, and we sort of figured… well, you know. You’d just told us you wanted to be with men. You two were always intense about each other. And, well. Blokes in loos.”
Harry was speechless.
“And half the time when we asked if you wanted to do something, you had plans with him,” Hermione added. “And it seemed as though they were rather big plans. You were talking about going on holiday together, and about bringing him round to dinner, and helping him get a job at the Ministry. He was at the pub with you more often than not.”
“Yeah,” Ron said. “And then it just sort of… stopped. You went to Amsterdam all of a sudden. We couldn’t figure out if he went with you, if you went together, because we didn’t see him at any of the usual spots. You were gone, think it was a month? When you got back, that was it. Neither of us saw him again until ‘Mione ran into him through work.”
“That’s when I met him,” Luna said. “A few months after that trip. Properly, not in a dungeon.”
“You did?” Hermione looked at Luna. “Then? I didn’t know that.”
Harry was glad someone else had said it. He still didn’t think he could.
“Yes. I was doing my zoology field placement at the time, and he came in one day, shadowing one of our veterinary experts for the week. Muggle-born. He was very quiet and very kind to the animals.”
“Quiet?” Ron asked. “That doesn’t sound right.”
“Oh no,” Luna insisted, “very quiet. I hardly heard him speak, except to the animals, until I spoke to him. He looked a bit pained all the time, though. A bit like he might cry, when he thought no one was looking.
“We started speaking here and there, and we’ve worked together quite a bit since. He’s got his practice at Titchwell. Works for the Muggles, mostly, though technically the Ministry, too. He’s been very helpful with my research. Dean’s as well. He’s opened up over the years, bit by bit. Except,” Luna hesitated. “If you come up, Harry. He either gets angry or clams up completely.”
Ron gave a low whistle. “You sure there wasn’t anything going on, mate?”
Harry shook his head dumbly.
“Do you think that was true for him?” Hermione’s voice was low and tentative.
The silence grew large before Luna interrupted it. “I’ve wondered that as well.”
Harry’s fingers were so numb he thought he might drop his wineglass. It rattled against the wood when he set it down on the side table.
“Mate?” Ron leaned forward and rested a hand on his knee. “Still in there?”
Harry managed a nod.
“We weren’t holding out on you, promise. Just hadn’t put all the pieces together.”
“I—” Harry’s voice was so hoarse he could barely understand his own words. “I need,” he tried again. “I, um. I need to—” He gestured to the fireplace.
Luna came around to his free side and took his hand in hers. “Harry, if you’ve hurt him, it won’t make it any better to keep turning up uninvited and trying to push your way in.”
Harry’s head was so full of static he wasn’t sure he’d be able to hear his own voice. If he could even make words in the first place. He settled for a nod.
“Let’s eat,” Luna went on. “Shall we?”
He felt Luna at one side and Ron at the other, and he didn’t think he would have got to the table without them.
The food tasted like sand and ash, and he felt like he was falling and falling.
Titchwell Marsh Reserve was big enough that Harry could go there and stay entirely away from Malfoy’s hide or the reedbeds. He could stay to the east, walk along the saltmarsh and the Parrinder wall and get a bit of fresh air without going anywhere near Malfoy. He could go so early in the day, or so late, that there was little chance of seeing anyone, Malfoy included.
So he did.
It was just that nothing else would satisfy. London felt claustrophobic and dirty. The Burrow was too full of people who looked at him with concern. He’d tried the Lake District, but it was too quiet, and Brighton, which felt all wrong with pebbles underfoot instead of sand. And he couldn’t stay in the house. Not when, even after he had someone out to inspect the foundations, he woke up more often than not to visions of it falling in on him.
He’d started writing Malfoy a letter the day after Luna’s dinner, but he hadn’t been able to figure out what to say. “Were you in love with me?” sounded mental. “I’m sorry if I hurt you” sounded insincere, but taking out the “if” made it presumptuous.
It was the only time in anyone’s recollection that he’d asked Padma if he could take some paperwork off her hands. She’d felt his forehead for a fever and sent him off with a stack of forms.
At last, he’d managed, Dear Malfoy – I’d like to visit the spoonbill. Please let me know if that’s possible and if there’s a time that would suit you. Thanks, Harry.
No response was forthcoming, except in the form of a Floo call from Luna two days later wherein she detailed further progress in rehabilitation and asked him, rather too pointedly, he thought, if there was anything else he wanted to know. He’d hesitated, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to say it.
Instead, he wrote a letter to McSullivan. Belatedly, but he hoped forgivably so. Harry thanked him for the flowers and said that he had enjoyed getting to know McSullivan as a friend and wished him all the best. It felt like something.
The next morning, he came in to half a dozen bouquets, each one with tickets to a different event hanging off the stems, along with notes entreating him to choose one and give McSullivan a chance to show what a very good friend he could be. At the bottom of one of them, McSullivan had written “very discrete loos,” with a winky face.
Harry felt like crying.
He left for Titchwell instead, and spent his lunch walking along the dunes until his fingers were freezing and he couldn’t feel his nose. He wondered if Malfoy ever came out there, and if he did whether it was to work or just to look. He thought about how good Malfoy had looked when he was relaxing over a pint, back when, and how funny he’d been when they’d walk down Brompton Road taking the piss out of tourists. He thought about how shocked Malfoy had looked when Harry had taken him to the pub with his friends the first time, and how quickly it had turned to hunger after a few pints. He thought about how he’d come back from Amsterdam to a stack of letters he’d sent to Malfoy, returned unopened and interspersed with his postcards, and how Malfoy had never spoken to him again.
When he got back to the office, he tried again.
What I really mean to say is that I’d like to understand what happened between us, and I think to apologise as well. If that doesn’t suit, I’ll leave you alone.
It was three days before he heard back, and every time the post came he was torn between relief and anxiety. And then, in distinctive hand and on Titchwell stationery:
Harry turned it over, but there was nothing more.
The sun had long since set by 5 o’clock, and the birdwatchers trying to catch the tail end of winter migrations had all started the walk back to the car parks.
Under his cloak, Harry’s fingers ached and his lips were numb. The sun had set with barely any colour. Just a long descent into grey, and then black.
He struggled to unbend his knees when he stood from his position on the dunes and started towards the boardwalk.
Malfoy’s clinic was just as dark as everything else. Harry pulled off his cloak and cast a Lumos when he passed through the archway, and called out for Malfoy.
A long moment passed before the door to the back swung open. Malfoy, wearing a coat and scarf, was outlined in the light from the room behind him.
Malfoy didn’t say anything, and for all the time as Harry had spent alternately dreading and wishing for this meeting, he couldn’t think of how to start it.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted.
Malfoy didn’t answer, but walked around him and out to the boardwalk and started toward the treeline.
Harry hurried after him. “Malfoy, wait! Please!”
It hadn’t looked like Malfoy was going to stop, but he pulled up short when Harry said please.
Still, Malfoy didn’t say anything, and Harry worried that anything he tried might go terribly wrong. Except please had seemed to work, so he tried that again. “Please. I want to understand.”
Malfoy turned and fixed him with a piercing gaze. “What?”
“I want to understand,” Harry repeated.
He could see Malfoy clench his jaw. “No. What? What do you want to understand?”
“Oh.” Harry hesitated “I… ” He frowned at his own ineloquence. “Why didn’t you come with me to Amsterdam?”
“What?” Malfoy rasped.
“I— Amsterdam. Why didn’t you come?”
Malfoy folded his arms over his chest.
“I told you when the Portkey was, and where I was staying, and I’d told you everything I wanted to do, and it seemed like it sounded alright to you, and we’d been spending so much time together, I thought you’d come, that we could right whatever had got strange between us, but you didn’t—I never heard from you again.”
“Got strange.” Malfoy’s voice was so low Harry could barely hear him. “Got strange between us.”
“Yeah.” Harry hesitated. “Got—”
Malfoy turned and started walking again before Harry could finish the sentence, and Harry barely caught up in time to hear him. “Got strange,” Malfoy repeated.
“You were always going to become an Auror,” Malfoy went on, his head bent against the wind. “Not because you’re especially good at Defense or because you’re especially noble. It’s just the only one way you can imagine doing good. Turn up and fight the grand battle, conquer the basilisk, save the school, capture the bad guys, find the bird, and then you’re on to the next thing. No follow through.”
Malfoy shook his head and kept talking. “The kinds of things that take work, day in day out, that you’ve got to build.” He laughed bitterly and shook his head. “You were never going to be a wandmaker or arithmancer. No. An Auror’s life for you.”
Harry tried to fit the pieces together. “What are you saying?”
“Nothing got strange. You wanted something to save. You only know how to do that for so long.”
“You didn’t want me to come with you. You didn’t know how to stay.”
“That’s not true!” The words exploded out of Harry before he could consider them. “I stay! I’ve been friends—family—with Ron and Hermione and the Weasleys for decades, I’ve been in the job for years, I’ve stayed at Grimmauld the whole way through, I—”
“Your comrades in arms, the source of your missions, the former headquarters of your army. Very stable.”
Before Harry could finish, Malfoy stopped and turned to him, fixing him with such a fierce glare that Harry couldn’t go on.
“Maybe,” Malfoy said through gritted teeth, “you didn’t know what you could have been staying for.” He paused. Faltered. “Maybe you didn’t want it.”
Then he was off, stalking down the boardwalk and leaving Harry stunned in his wake, unable to so much as put together a thought.
“Malfoy!” Harry saw Malfoy shake his head, but he didn’t slow down. Harry ran after him. “Malfoy, please stop!” He redoubled his pace, feeling the boards bounce beneath his step, but it was so close, he was so close, and as sharp as the wind was, as hard as it was to move through the cold that had settled into his bones, he had to know. “Malfoy!” He called again as he got closer, close enough at last to reach out for Malfoy’s arm.
Malfoy recoiled, but he didn’t pull his arm away.
“What if I did?” Harry gasped, the cold driving deep into his lungs. “What if I did and I didn’t think—You never said anything, I never thought, and, what if I did?”
Malfoy did pull his arm away then, and backed up slowly, each step taking the shock in his eyes further from view. “No.” Malfoy’s voice was low and rough. “You don’t get to do this now. You don’t get to do this.”
Harry stepped closer.
“No,” Malfoy repeated. He shook his head. “I can’t do this. Not like this.”
“Then how?” Harry didn’t care that his voice was thick with desperation.
Malfoy took a shuddering breath. He closed his eyes for a long moments, and when he opened again he stared right into Harry’s. “Tomorrow. 8am.” He turned on the spot and disappeared.
The trees stretched over Harry’s head threateningly, a few bare branches giving the moonlight a sinister glow. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and disappeared as well.
Harry slept fitfully. He barely dared close his eyes, but they grew drier and then heavier and he couldn’t help it. And then the walls fell away and the ceiling above him was burning again, but the ash cooled in the air and fell in grey flurries and gathered in drifts around his feet and when he bent to run a hand through it, it was sand, and it fell through his fingers and away from him, stretching out towards the horizon until it was all he could see, and through the shower of ash a figure rose from the sand and started walking, and when he tried to step closer the shower of ash grew heavier and heavier, until it buried his feet and obscured his vision so that he couldn’t tell whether the figure was walking towards him or walking away.
“Don’t say anything.” Malfoy met Harry in the waiting room with Edgar on his arm. “Do you understand?”
Harry followed Malfoy down the boardwalk toward the reed bed, pausing at the edge as Malfoy waded in.
“Charm your trainers and come along.”
He did his jeans for good measure, and though he could feel the cold pressing in, his feet were dry.
Malfoy walked until he was shin-deep, then whispered something to Edgar and raised his arm.
Slowly, the bird extended both wings. Harry could see that the tape was gone, as was much of the stiffness, and the surgical line under his wing had disappeared. With help from Malfoy’s wand, Edgar rose into the air and beat his wings once, and then again, and then landed back on Malfoy’s forearm.
They repeated the ritual twice more, and Harry was beginning to wonder whether Malfoy was going to talk to him at all, or what Malfoy might do if he asked.
“When you left,” Malfoy began, as Edgar rose a fourth time, “I was in the middle of applying to a program in London. A graduate diploma in Muggle biology. I had my NEWTs but no chance outside of a miracle or an Imperius of getting a job with them. I had been unsure of what to do. Rely on what was left of the family money, try to start an Apothecary. I don’t know.”
Harry watched Malfoy’s profile as he spoke. It felt so familiar, standing near Malfoy, listening to him talk. But Malfoy seemed so different, too. Calmer, without the chaotic edge that had once surrounded him.
“Then—” Malfoy sighed. “Then you started talking about getting me a job at the Ministry. Some part of me wanted that. Wanted it all to be fixed. But I knew—as did you, I think, though perhaps not consciously—that if I took it then our— we would be over. If I became one more person you had saved, you would move on.” He paused as though deciding whether to say anything more, and moved on swiftly. “I had an O in Potions and an EE in Arithmancy, and science seemed a good enough fit. I was in the middle of the application process when you announced that you were going to Amsterdam. It was so sudden that if I’d gone, I couldn’t have finished.
“And it was an announcement, you realise. You never asked me to come. You spoke as though you expected it sometimes, as though you imagined us there together. ‘Do you think we’ll want to explore the rest of the country as well?’ ‘Will the Rijksmuseum take us more than half a day?’ But you never asked. You never…” Malfoy trailed off and turned his head so that Harry could hardly hear him over the wind and the lapping of water against the reeds. “You never said you wanted me.”
Harry felt as though his heart had stopped.
“So I stayed.” Malfoy went on, as though completely unaware that the air had been so thoroughly knocked out of Harry that he thought his lungs might be threatening to stop as well. “It was useful, in the end. You’d made it clear that I wasn’t to you what you—” Malfoy shifted uneasily, extending an arm for Edgar. “That ours was a passing acquaintanceship for you, and that I ought not rely on it.” Malfoy sniffed, and Harry was fairly sure it was more out of haughtiness than any of the alternatives. “It was best to end that acquaintance. I finished the application and was admitted. I devoted myself to my studies and excelled. We had always had Crups at the Manor, as well as Kneazles, peacocks, and Abraxans, and I’d been trained to oversee care of the grounds, with all their pests.” Malfoy gave a dry snort. “When not confronted with life-threatening ones in the middle of a class, I’ve always been good with animals. I sent an owl to the fellow who used to help birth foals at the Manor, and he was kind enough to make an introduction. As it turns out, Cambridge has a magical wing as well as the Muggle and, academics being as they are, they were more interested in my marks than my involvement in the war.”
Blood rushed through Harry’s ears as he tried to take it all in.
“Those weren’t always very happy years. But I made my way here, with a great deal of work and the help of a few kind witches and wizards along the way. Officially, I am employed by the RSPB, and my primary responsibility is to oversee conservation and repopulation efforts in the marsh. However, we have a tacit understanding that when unusual creatures appear, they fall entirely in my purview, and I work with Luna in her efforts to preserve magical creatures, among others.”
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but his nose and mouth felt full of salt air. Besides which, he couldn’t find the words.
Malfoy lifted his arm and Edgar took flight again. Instead of rising straight up and staying there, Edgar took a short lap of the marsh.
Harry couldn’t figure out where to look. Edgar stretched his wings beautifully, and after having seen them drawn in tight and covered in blood, the sight of the wind beneath his feathers moved Harry more deeply than he might have expected. But then there was Malfoy, his profile turned almost out of sight, but not so far that Harry couldn’t see the softness in his eyes or the gentle smile at the corners of his lips. Harry watched, rapt, as Malfoy tilted his head back and shielded his eyes to watch Edgar’s flight, his smile growing as Edgar soared higher and higher. Harry thought of taking a step closer. Wondered how it might feel to stand at Malfoy’s side. Worried that Malfoy might startle.
Minutes passed before Malfoy let out a soft call and Edgar circled lower, and then lower still, finally coming to a stop on Malfoy’s outstretched forearm. Malfoy held him so close Harry almost couldn’t hear the reassurances and praise that Malfoy had for the bird, almost couldn’t see the look of approval in his eyes.
When Malfoy turned to him, all of it vanished. He was neither sharp nor cold, but flat. He looked empty. As though there was nothing left to say.
“So you see,” Malfoy began. “I have found a calling and a home. Perhaps I owe you thanks for that. There was clarity in your absence. I believe that answers your questions.” Malfoy gave him a curt nod, and began to walk away.
Harry stood frozen in place. He wasn’t sure, at first, whether his feet were so cold he couldn’t move, or whether he was without even the breath he’d need to take a step. He opened his mouth, but his tongue felt thick with salt and shock.
Malfoy’s back was framed by the reeds, and his outline grew smaller and smaller as he returned to his clinic, until all Harry could see was a figure on the path, and then nothing at all.
It took three cups of tea before Harry was sure he could feel his toes again, and twice as many biscuits before he thought he might be able to speak.
Then he knelt on the hearth, pouring Floo powder from palm to palm, wondering if he most needed Ron’s candor or Hermione’s pragmatism or Dean’s concern or Seamus’ bluntness or Ginny’s openness or Angelina’s warmth or George’s humour or Padma’s willingness to distract him with work.
He called Luna. She came through so quickly he fell backwards trying to scramble aside. She perched next to him on the edge of the hearth as though he had meant it all along.
It felt like an age before she spoke. “You smell a bit like the sea.”
Harry stared down at his knees, then hugged them to his chest and nodded.
“Have you been crying?”
“What?” He looked up at her, startled.
“Salt water.” She didn’t offer any additional explanation.
“No.” Harry paused. “I was in Norfolk. At Titchwell.”
“Ah,” said Luna. “Do you need to cry?”
Harry looked back to his knees. “No. Why would I?”
Luna hummed. “Draco told me, once, that you didn’t react very well when he cried.”
Watching Draco fade from view had carved a hollow in Harry’s chest, and as Luna spoke it seemed to fill with lead.
“I hope you know,” Luna went on, “that there isn’t anything wrong with crying. It can be a bit hard, sometimes. But there’s a difference between things that are hard and things that are bad.”
“I know that,” Harry answered, but even he could hear that there wasn’t much conviction behind it.
Luna leaned back on her palms and waited.
It was another long minute before Harry could put his question to words. “Luna, when did Draco tell you that?”
She cocked her head and looked at him curiously. “About five years ago, I’d say, give or take a year.”
Harry looked at her nervously. “He told you everything? What I did?”
“Yes.” She watched him, her eyes open and calm.
“More than you knew from school? From rumours?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Why are you still here?” Harry blurted it out before he could think better of it.
“Because you called.”
“No, I mean, I did that, and I—I went to talk to him last night, and he said— And then I went to talk to him again this morning, or to listen to him, and he— What I meant is, I guess there are a lot of things I missed. Or, big things I missed, and then a lot of things because of it. And I might have—” Harry buried his face in his hands, unsure of whether he could even say it.
“Yes?” Luna prompted, her voice almost a whisper.
“Hurt him,” Harry finished. “Badly.”
Harry looked up, startled.
“Yes,” Luna said again. “I think that’s right.”
“But—” Harry spluttered. “But then… If I hurt him, and I hurt him again, and probably if I’ve missed that I’ve hurt other people as well, hurt friends, hurt you, and that…” he trailed off.
“Harry.” Luna’s voice was calm and steady. “Do you think people are capable of change?”
He blinked. “Yes. Mostly. Not Voldemort. Not Umbridge or the Carrows. But people who want to change.”
“Then shouldn’t you believe the same thing about yourself?”
It felt like the kind of thought he couldn’t afford to turn over too carefully. “It’s not the same thing, and anyway—”
Luna cut him off. “Why not?”
Harry stared at her. He didn’t have an answer.
She hummed in recognition of his silence. “Would you want to change?”
He frowned down at his knees. “I don’t want to hurt people.”
“You don’t usually, you know.”
“Does it bother you that you’ve hurt Draco?”
“Yeah,” Harry answered softly.
“Do you know why?”
He nodded miserably.
“Perhaps,” Luna offered, and climbed to her feet, “if you know why, and you don’t want to hurt people, and you’re the kind of person who can change, you already know what to do.” She leaned forward to kiss the top of his head, and disappeared back into the flames.
Harry sat on the hearth until his legs were numb. Then he Summoned parchment and a quill and wrote another note.
Thank you for seeing me this morning. I’m grateful for it. I’ve realised that I didn’t take the opportunity to apologise. Could I still?
A response came that evening. Harry, restless from pacing the house, almost jumped out of his skin when an owl tapped at the window.
It was the same handwriting and the same stationery.
Harry was outside of the clinic at 7:59. The sun was still climbing over the horizon, and the boardwalk had taken on an orange cast in the early morning light.
At 8:00 exactly, Harry walked through the Archway. Malfoy, in a coat and scarf again, emerged from the back a moment later, and gestured outdoors.
Harry followed. “Why do you always want to walk?”
Draco spoke at the same time. “You had something to say?”
Harry waited a moment, hoping Draco might bridge the silence and answer his question. It only took the one moment to realise that between the two of them, Malfoy was far more likely to hold out indefinitely for an answer.
“Yes,” Harry answered. “Two things, actually.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry began. “I’m very sorry. I thought— When I left, you’re right that I just thought you would come, and that I didn’t ask. And when I got all the letters I sent you back, I gave up. I didn’t try. In doing that, I think I proved you right. I think I made it easy for you to believe I didn’t care.
“That wasn’t it, though. On my end. We did everything together then. Almost everything. It came out of nowhere, it felt like. Having you in my life. And then you were always there, and that felt right. There were things you understood. A lot of them. And you didn’t treat me like I was about to break because of them. You were funny about them, and you had so much life in you. We’d both stared death in the face, and part of me had wanted to stay there with it.”
Next to him, Harry felt as much as he saw Draco whip his head around to stare.
“You didn’t. You wanted to live.” Harry stared down at the boards as he walked, worried that whatever he might see on Draco’s face could stop him talking. “And you said once that you wanted to see the Dutch masters, because you’d only ever been taught about the Italians. I don’t know if you even remember that.”
Next to him, Draco made a sound. Still, Harry couldn’t look. “So I thought we’d go. Be alive. And if I’d asked, you could’ve said no.”
He chanced a look next to him and almost flinched at the strength of Draco’s gaze. He turned his eyes back to the boardwalk. “I didn’t think about why that possibility bothered me so much I couldn’t risk it. Maybe I wasn’t ready to. It was another few years before…” He shook his head. “Anyway. I’m sorry. For that and for not asking and for not trying harder when I got back. You meant a lot to me. I’m sorry you didn’t know that. That I didn’t tell you.”
Draco hugged himself against the wind. He didn’t say anything.
“I should have done this a long time ago,” Harry said, when the silence got to be too much. “I’m sorry it took this, and that I—”
“Why did it bother you?” Draco looked at him intently.
“I—” Harry faltered. “Um.”
Draco looked away and shook his head, and Harry felt the loss of his focus as acutely as if someone had ripped away his coat.
“It was two more years before I kissed a man.”
Draco’s head whipped around. His attention felt less like a relief and more like scrutiny. Harry swallowed. “We weren’t so young the thought hadn’t ever occurred to me. I knew I wanted to do it. I’d told Ron and Hermione. But we were so young, and I was so in the public eye, that the thought of not ignoring it really didn’t occur to me. Especially when I never thought—” He carded his hair. “Do you remember that time in Soho, we saw those blokes kissing?”
Draco nodded once.
“There was one second where you looked so curious, I thought maybe, you know? Maybe if I told you it was okay, or if you said something, but then you just said something like ‘takes all sorts’ and went back to your pint. I never thought you might—” Harry stopped. Swallowed. Still couldn’t bring himself to say it. “If I said anything I thought that would be the end of it all. If I didn’t say anything at all, at least I could be around you. I was holding my breath, I guess, and if I’d asked and you’d said no—hell, maybe if I’d asked and you’d said yes, and I’d told you I’d rented a one-bedroom five minutes outside of Museum Square and you’d offered to expand the space or transfigure a second bed or any of those things that you’d have been well within your right to do, because we were friends, and of course you would want your own space—then what? Maybe I was holding my breath because it was the only breath I had.”
Harry searched Malfoy’s face. He found it strangely impassive, even more than it had been, and turned to fiddle with the buttons on his coat. “That’s not an excuse, though. I didn’t mean to sound like I was making one. The point is, I’m sorry. That’s all. I’m sorry. You don’t have to accept it, but—”
“I know I don’t have to accept it.” Malfoy’s voice was as blank as his face. “What is it you’re saying?”
“That’s not all you’re saying.”
Harry sighed. “No. It isn’t.”
Draco stopped walking and waited, silently. The sun had climbed over the horizon and the light was more yellow than orange.
Even in the morning sunlight, Harry felt colder than he had yet. “I did want it.”
Draco looked at him. Blinked. “Did.”
“Did,” Harry nodded. “And then spent a miserable month in an apartment in Amsterdam, then figured I’d lost you anyway so there was no point wondering what that meant and put it out of my head for the better part of a decade. And then this bird fell out of the sky and everyone said you were the person to heal it, and there I was, and there you were.”
“Did,” Draco repeated.
“There was a second thing I had to say. That I wanted to ask you, actually. The other night. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it.” He saw the breath leave Draco’s chest and it took all his remaining will to keep talking. “I just never really thought that you did. Did you?”
Slowly, Draco nodded. “I did.”
Harry’s stomach flipped. “Did?”
“Did,” Draco said. “And then you left, and I didn’t see you for the better part of a decade. You didn’t even try. And then you showed up with this bird, making demands and making a nuisance of yourself.”
“Oh.” Harry’s shoulders sagged, and the rest of his body fought the urge to go with them. “Right. Did.”
“Are you saying you do?”
A million words vied for position on the tip of Harry’s tongue. He wanted something equivocal and safe.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess I am. Yeah.”
Draco exhaled heavily, his breath curling into the crisp morning air. He shook his head slowly. “You guess you do.”
“I—” Harry paused. He had imagined impassioned apologies and reconciliation, and there hadn’t been much of a role for the details, any more than there had been time to figure out who Draco might be now. “I think I do. I think I would, even more, with time.” He paused. “I don’t want to promise you anything more than what I’m sure of. But yes.”
Draco nodded. “All right. Then give me time.”
Harry spent the next several days looking up. He jumped every time he saw a bird, had to stop himself running for the hearth every time a log popped in the fireplace. Which made the event itself almost anticlimactic.
It was half past three on a Wednesday and Harry was failing in every attempt to lose himself in paperwork when Padma knocked on his doorframe. “Oi, Harry, looks like an owl got turned around.” She held a thin scroll in her hand.
Harry could make out a green wax seal at the edge of it and channelled every last remaining bit of calm he could muster into not running to take it from her. “Yeah? Let’s have it, then.”
He tried not to wince when she tossed it to him. “Bloody address system makes no sense. Office 27 and an eighth? No wonder. You know,” Padma snorted, “I got a very unfortunate batch of magazines misdelivered last week. Gaspard in Improper Use owes me one hell of a favour.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. He turned the parchment over in his hand and willed himself to set it down and look at her properly. “Gonna make it a good one?”
She grinned devilishly. “I’ve got a list going if you want to take a break for brainstorming.”
“Definitely.” He gripped the edge of his desk and met her eye with a smile. “Let me just see to this, and I’ll be right in.”
Padma grinned and disappeared around the corner to her office, and with shaky fingers, Harry unrolled the letter. He recognised the handwriting instantly, though the Titchwell stationary had been replaced with something more formal.
I’m invited to a dinner at Luna Lovegood’s, this Friday at 8pm. I am assured that you are also welcome.
No response needed. However, should you decide to attend, you ought to bring a bottle of wine. A challenge for you, I’m sure, but it won’t kill you.
Harry exhaled weakly, and realised he’d been holding his breath too long for a proper sigh. He forced himself to inhale, reread the letter, and tucked it into his pocket. He thought perhaps, while adding to her list, Padma might be able to suggest a good bottle.
Walking would have been dumb, Harry reminded himself. He would have wound up cold, and sweaty under his coat, and there would have been the whole awkward business of taking his coat off and explaining why he, a wizard, had walked. Instead, he stood on the hearth, then stepped back off and back on again, and off, and on. He thought, not a bit grimly, that at least it was a way to work up an appetite. Which he needed badly, as his stomach had been colonised by some very angry butterflies, or possibly wasps.
Though he wasn’t all that cross about the invasion. At least it was a distraction from thinking about all the ways this might go wrong.
He grabbed Floo powder and stepped into the flames before he could think better of it.
Harry stumbled out into an empty living room. Of all the things he’d imagined and tried to plan for, the possibility of not immediately making a fool of himself hadn’t occurred, and it left him feeling strangely wrong-footed.
From beyond the doorway – the kitchen, he thought – there was laughter. He strained to hear, but couldn’t make out the particulars.
There was only one thing to do, then. He gripped the neck of a very nice Bourdeaux and rounded the corner. He heard voices once he was in the dining room, and then he was looking into the kitchen.
Luna stood over the stove. Ron and Hermione were at the sink. Standing next to each other beside a butcher’s block, Dean and Draco were waving their wands at a pair of potato peelers. Draco brandished his wand in a very peculiar pattern, and he and Dean both dissolved as the peeler carved an elaborate “D” in the side of the vegetable.
Draco looked up and saw Harry, and stopped laughing as soon as their eyes met. He dropped his wand to his side and stared. The potato fell against the wood with a heavy smack. Harry could relate.
“We were just peeling the vegetables,” Draco said. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Dean looked back and forth between them and cleared his throat. “It’s really cool charm work, Harry, if you want to try.” Dean elbowed Draco in the ribs. “Turns out the purebloods have a few nifty tricks after all.”
“No,” Draco said, then took a breath and started again, his voice considerably lower. “It’s just a matter of having grown up around it, that’s all. The way a Muggle child might learn to, er…” he trailed off, looking desperate for an example.
“Floss!” Ron called out from the sink. “Hey, Harry.”
Harry gripped the wine bottle tighter and forced a smile.
Ron turned to the room, a bit sheepishly and with dripping hands. “‘Mione told me about it. They make tiny, tiny bits of string and you run them between your teeth. Instead of a cleaning spell. Muggle children learn it, right?” He glanced back at Hermione.
“Right,” she agreed, looking fondly at Ron and barely suppressing a laugh. “And I don’t imagine wizards do.”
“You can use dittany stems for that,” Luna added thoughtfully. “Have to space your teeth out first, though. Can Muggles do that?”
Hermione’s lips quirked in spite of an obvious effort at staying calm. “Only over the course of years.”
“And it hurts,” Dean added. “And it’s just as hard to put them back.”
“Not very practical then.” Luna went back to the pot.
“No,” Hermione agreed. “That’s why we floss.”
“Right!” Ron’s enthusiasm returned. “Exactly. But a wizard wouldn’t have the foggiest. I tried it once, wasn’t pretty.”
“No,” Hermione agreed, starting to dissolve into giggles. “It really wasn’t.”
Harry glanced back to Draco, who was looking at Ron with unmistakable gratitude.
“Anyway,” Ron went on, “point is, some things you wouldn’t know if you didn’t learn them at home.”
“Really, Ronald. They do have books for that.”
“Course!” Ron scrambled, and looked to Hermione, then Malfoy, then Harry, then back to Hermione. “I’m, um, just saying, love, that some things come more easily when you’ve grown up doing them. Nothing to do with blood.”
“No.” Draco jumped in almost before Ron had finished. “Nothing to do with blood at all.” He tore his eyes from Harry and looked to Hermione. “I’m sure I’d be terrible at flossing.”
Hermione looked at him, considering. Harry saw her catch Dean’s eye, too, and saw Dean’s encouraging nod. “Well,” Hermione said. “I suppose that might be true.”
“Are you done with the potatoes?” Luna asked over her shoulder. “We’re ready.”
“Almost!” Dean answered, and as Harry watched he and Draco worked in tandem to peel the remaining tubers, levitating them to Luna as they finished.
With his hands newly empty, Dean took the bottle from Harry and clapped him on the shoulder. “Just about done in here. Help me set the table?”
Harry did, and everyone came in for dinner, and something anxious and excited settled in his chest when he realised that they’d arranged themselves so he was sitting next to Draco. He really did have the best friends, and if they were comrades in arms, than at least Harry was certain that that was just as true of the everyday battles as the big, epic, dark-lord-defeating ones.
Draco, who sat next to him without comment, good or bad, and spoke to him and to everyone else at the table, and who didn’t move any closer, but also didn’t move further away. Draco, who laughed with his friends and listened intently to everyone and offered to refill glasses and helped clear up and remained inscrutable through three courses and easily four times as many topics of conversation.
And then the evening was almost over, and Harry was full, and dizzy with confusion. He was warm, too, relaxed by his friends’ stories and a fair bit of wine. But his head cleared every time Draco moved suddenly, or started talking, as though this might be the moment when something was revealed.
It wasn’t. None of them were. And then Draco was kissing Luna on the cheek and clapping Dean on the shoulder and shaking hands with Ron and Hermione and giving Harry one last probing, thoughtful look before he stepped into the Floo.
Harry didn’t even try to sleep. He threw on a coat and walked outside as soon as he got home. The streets were close to empty around Grimmauld Place, which might have been the only thing keeping him from walking into someone as he found himself, every few minutes, scanning the sky in increasingly unsubtle hopes of seeing an owl perched in the bare branches, or maybe Edgar himself, or hell, some other lost spoonbill. He wondered if there were magical egrets or terns that might find some fateful way to get lost in London.
It all started to feel so mad so quickly that when an owl did alight on a fencepost in front of him, Harry figured it couldn’t be for him.
It hooted sharply as he walked past, and he craned his neck. It stared at him so intensely that Harry almost felt the urge to cower. Then he noticed the scroll around its ankle. He stepped closer, and it held its leg out imperiously, hooting again and shaking its feathers when Harry hesitated. His hands shook—with cold, he told himself—and he had to open it slowly so as not to drop it. Inside, there was one word written in scrawling hand: Boardwalk.
It was a violation of the statute of secrecy, but Harry figured the Ministry owed him one or two dozen, and he turned and Apparated on the spot.
Draco’s elbows were on the fencing at the edge of the boardwalk. His hair seemed almost to glow under the night sky. The air was thick with salt, but the breeze was lighter than it might have been. Less biting.
Harry stared openly. The edges of Draco’s outline were thrown into sharp relief by the light of the full moon and Harry wanted to wrap himself around every edge and shadow.
“For a hero of legend, you’re surprisingly timid.”
Harry took a step forward. “What?”
“Isn’t the grand gesture the bit you’re supposed to be good at?”
“I thought I was trying to get better at the other parts. Besides, you said you needed time.”
“So I did.” Draco turned and leaned back against the railing. His features were cast so deeply in shadow that Harry couldn’t make out his expression. “That’s why I took some.”
“Oh,” Harry said. Then, “I was starting to think I was going to have to bring in another bird.”
Draco snorted. “Such a hero. Picking up innocent birds just to get your way. Our saviour.”
The words echoed through Harry’s mind. They sounded familiar, but then, there was every reason they should. Except, on Draco’s lips they sounded different. Not the least bit deferential. Draco saw who he was and saw the legend he was made out to be, and his first inclination was to take the piss.
A wave of longing—a decade’s worth of missing—crashed over him. He swallowed against the tightness in his throat. “That’s me.”
Draco laughed and pushed off. “And I’m moonlighting as an actual dragon.”
“Are you?” Harry let his lips pull into a smile. “Prickly enough for it.”
Draco crossed his arms and grumbled, but Harry didn’t think he was really affronted. “I’ve taken my time. Do you want answers, or do you want to stand here in the cold and cruelly mock me all evening?”
“Answers.” Some things, Harry couldn’t bring himself to joke about.
Draco gestured down the boardwalk and began to walk towards the dunes. Harry followed close behind, and realised Draco was slowing down to let him catch up.
He felt as though something in his chest opened when he fell into step next to Draco. They matched pace easily, and Draco didn’t pull away as Harry pulled closer, until their hands were almost touching.
“Do you think you still do?” Draco asked.
“Yes.” As focused as he’d been on his proximity to Draco, it fell away in the face of the question. “Do you?”
Draco sighed. “Yes.”
Harry’s heart swelled into the newly open space in his ribcage.
“Which may be utter madness,” Draco went on. “It’s been ages, and while we’ve established that your table manners and conversational skills are marginally better than they once were, and that you are at least aware of and perhaps trying to remedy some of your more glaring shortcomings—”
“Hey.” Harry aimed for mock-indignance. The words were too true to have any sting. Mostly it was an excuse to bump his arm against Draco’s.
Which was good, as it didn’t stop Draco talking. “—that isn’t actually that much to go on. And yet.”
“And yet.” Draco gave a deeply melodramatic sigh. “And yet.”
“I feel as though I shouldn’t like the sound of that as much as I do.”
“Do you?” Draco tilted his head, and Harry found himself a bit awed with the way the moonlight lit Draco’s eyelashes.
“Yeah,” Harry answered. “I do.”
“Good.” Draco pulled closer next to him, and every few steps Harry could feel Draco’s hand almost brush against his own. “But,” Draco went on, “I didn’t just bring you out here for the scenery.”
Harry felt his heart speed up. “No?”
“No. Edgar fledged today, and as it gets later in the evening he’ll decide whether to stay and winter here, perhaps nest and find a mate, or whether he’ll move on.”
“I thought— Luna said he was already a fledged adult.”
“He is. Re-fledged, then. Since his injury.” Draco looked at Harry significantly. “Sometimes it takes more than one go, especially after such a deep wound.”
“But he’s recovered enough to try?” Harry asked, almost at a whisper.
“Yes.” Draco nodded. “He had to come back to it slowly, but he’s ready.”
As they walked, the boards faded into sand, and with a jolt Harry realised that they were stepping off the boardwalk altogether. “Is this where we watch?”
“On the dunes,” Draco said. “He’ll fly out over the water. If he’s moving on, he’ll head south. If not, he’ll circle back.”
Harry followed him to the last ridge, where they could see the waves rushing up to meet the shore, and flowing back out again. He cast a warming charm before they sat, which earned him a mix of amusement and appreciation from Draco. Then they sat.
The moon was high enough and full enough to cast light over the shoreline and Harry had the distinct sense that he ought to be looking at it, but his entire focus was trained on Draco.
They had settled close to each other, in touching range but not quite touching. Draco’s legs were in front of him, one ankle crossed over the other, and he leaned back on his wrists. The tips of his fingers were buried in the sand, just enough that Harry wasn’t sure he’d be able to find them except by feeling, and he still wasn’t sure whether he was welcome to feel.
They’d used to bump up against each other easily, gripping arms to point out a particularly tacky tourist or holding each other up when they’d had a pint too many or breathing whispers into each other's ears or jamming into a crowded booth and sitting so close that there was no way for their thighs not to line up against one another, for their fingers not to brush together. But even then it had, as if by silent agreement, been kept to the strictly accidental or the plausibly deniable. But, Harry thought, if he did, and if Draco did, then perhaps it would be okay to run his fingers over the sand until they met Draco’s.
He didn’t have to wonder long. He almost jumped when something warm brushed the side of his hand, then realised it was Draco’s hand against his own, Draco’s little finger coming to hook around his. He had to close his eyes against the sensation of it, and tried not to revel so deeply in it that he lost track of himself.
Instead, he reached back and intertwined his fingers with Draco’s. He grinned when he felt a squeeze, and returned it, and pulled Draco’s hand towards him, and thrilled when the rest of Draco followed. Even through their jeans Draco’s thigh was warm against his own, and when Harry leaned closer he was instantly sorry to find that their coats were too thick for the same to be true of their shoulders. He turned to look at Draco, only to find that Draco had beat him to it.
He wondered what it would be like to kiss Draco. He’d wondered before, all those years ago. Had wondered when they were falling off bar stools. Had wondered when he was lying alone in bed at night, though he hadn’t wanted to admit it. Had wondered about more than kissing him, if he was honest. Had wondered if that same spark would be there. The push and pull, the piss-taking, the precious, precarious balance between challenge and understanding. He wondered what he would do if this didn’t live up to what he’d imagined. He wondered what he would do if it did.
“Harry,” Draco rasped.
Harry leaned in, his breath coming faster.
Draco nudged his shoulder and pointed. “Look.”
Out over the water, the outline of a bird was rising over the waves.
“Edgar,” Draco whispered.
They watched as he climbed higher, his wings fully extended, the white expanse of his coat turned blue in the night sky. He rose until he was in front of the moon, and then banked right.
“Is he….?” Draco seemed to address his question to the sky, and Harry felt him hold his breath.
Slowly, Edgar flew lower, skirting the waves and then turning again, flying back towards the marshes.
Draco exhaled and slumped forward.
On pure instinct, Harry extended a hand, cupped the sharp line of Draco’s jaw, and pulled him in. He could feel Draco’s pulse pounding under his fingertips. Draco’s lips were firm and warm and pliant and he kissed back fiercely. He pulled Harry to him, and Harry slipped a hand under his coat, and the heat of him, the knowledge that it was Draco’s chest under his hands, Draco’s lips against his, thrilled Harry to his core.
He thought—knew—it was a kiss worth waiting for.
Draco pulled back first. His pupils were blown wide and he was as breathless as Harry, and they sat, looking at each other, Harry’s hand still gripping Draco’s waist through his sweater. Harry would have been happy to stay there for the rest of the night, and Draco looked as stunned as he felt, both of them so blown away that they might have stayed sitting there until sunrise.
At last, Draco exhaled and shook his head. He drew a shaky breath. “Well. I think we know, then.”
“Know?” Harry repeated, still struggling for coherence.
“Edgar.” Draco’s voice was hoarse, but with a hint of teasing to it.
“Edgar,” Harry repeated, confused and torn between wanting to know what Draco had to say about the bird and wishing very much that they could get back to the kissing.
“Yes,” Draco said. “He flew back. Instead of south.”
“Oh.” Harry sat up straighter as he realised, and tightened his grip on Draco’s side. “That means…?”
“Yes,” Draco said with a smile, and crooked a finger under Harry’s chin to pull him close again. “He’s going to stay.”