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Draco Malfoy is late.

It’s not anything new, Harry supposes. In the ten days they’ve been together and the couple of months they’ve been colleagues, he’s come to realise that Draco’s time-keeping inside Chem Dep and his time-keeping in his personal life are two completely different things.

But even so. It’s almost eight o’clock in the evening, and Draco had said he’d be at Grimmauld Place by six thirty, right after the end of his shift; Harry hates to admit it but his mild irritation has shifted into anxiety.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” he mutters into the silence of his living room as he sticks his head into the fireplace and asks for Malfoy Manor.

He blinks the smoke from his eyes and finds himself almost nose to nose with a house-elf he’s never seen before. The elf steps back slightly, small feet pattering on the marble floor of the Floo reception room, and stares, awestruck, at Harry with huge eyes.

“Mr Harry Potter, Sir.”

“Yes. Is Draco at home, please?”

The house-elf nods enthusiastically. “Oh, yes, Mister Malfoy is in his angry room.”

Harry frowns. “His what?”

“His angry room, Harry Potter, Sir. I is taking you there, if you is wanting to come through.”

“Yes, I is... that, is, I am coming through,” says Harry, who has always struggled not to instinctively copy the house-elves’ characteristic mode of speech.

As he steps through into the small, dimly-lit room, the house-elf is already at the door, gesturing for him to follow. “If you is coming with Flimby now, Sir...”

Harry follows Flimby up a curving flight of stairs and along several portrait-lined corridors. He finds himself walking slowly, looking around with interest; he hasn’t been inside the Manor since... well, since the war, he realises, pushing that particular memory away forcefully and focusing instead on the ornate fixtures and rows of oil-rendered Malfoys-past.

The small amount of time that he and Draco have managed to spend together outside of the hospital has been at Grimmauld Place; Draco hasn’t registered a desire to come here, not since that first time, and Harry hasn’t been inclined to argue with him. The Manor is clearly beautiful and rich with history, but if Harry’s honest, it gives him the creeps.

A particularly severe-looking ice blonde woman in a gilt frame glares at him as he passes. Flimby is way out in front, back to Harry, and Harry pulls a face at her. Her resulting expression of disdain makes him feel better, and he picks up his speed, trailing Flimby along a thickly-carpeted hall that smells heavily of beeswax and silver polish.

“Master Draco is in here, Sir,” Flimby says, stopping in front of a carved mahogany door. “Is you needing anything else?”

Harry shakes his head and thanks the elf, waiting until he disappears with a sharp crack, before pushing open the door carefully. A loud crash makes him jump, and it’s with some trepidation that he steps into Draco’s ‘angry room.’

The space is large, high-ceilinged and completely devoid of furniture, which Harry realises is a very good thing, once his eyes fall upon the source of the crash. The floor is littered with shattered glass and shards of coloured ceramic.

Unnerved, Harry closes the door behind him and leans against it, watching Draco with a mixture of intrigue and anxiety.

He’s standing in the centre of the floor, calmly and systematically levitating vases from a pile at his side and flicking his wand to smash them against the far wall. What strikes Harry immediately is that he’s standing almost completely still, but for his wand arm, and were it not for the chaos around him, it would be impossible to discern that he was angry at all. That being said, Draco’s interpretation of some of the... messier emotions has always been somewhat subdued.

“Draco,” he says softly, not wanting to startle him and get a vase smashed over his head by mistake.

He whips around, and Harry catches his breath. Draco’s face is impassive but the storm raging in the grey eyes is all the anger he needs to see. Slightly out of breath, he looks at Harry for a moment and then turns away, levitating a new cut crystal vase from his depleted stack.

“Draco,” he tries again, taking a step closer. “What are you doing?”

The real question is why, he supposes, but one step at a time.

“Breaking things,” Draco says matter-of-factly. He flicks his wand, and there’s another crash.

“I can see that,” Harry murmurs, absently admiring the shimmer of light from the wall-torches across the scattered crystal fragments. “Want to tell me why?”

“No.” Swish. Flick. Crash.

Harry sighs, torn with the need to ease Draco’s obvious distress, but all too aware of how adept the man is at freeze-out when he wants to be.

“Did someone hurt you?”

Draco looses a twisted laugh. “No.” Crash.

“Your mother’s alright, isn’t she?” Harry stares anxiously at the back of the blond head. Draco sags slightly, causing a small shift in the tension of his shoulders.

“She’s fine.” A willow-pattern vase rises into the air.

“Is it because of Algernon?” Harry ventures tentatively. He knows Draco must have seen the article in the Prophet today, even though they haven’t discussed it yet.

Draco snorts and obliterates the vase with a particularly vicious wand-movement. “He got twelve months and lost his Healing licence. I couldn’t be happier.”

Somewhat relieved, Harry scratches at his hair. An alternative approach is clearly needed, and he’ll find a way in if it’s the last thing he does. He’s learned enough about Draco to know that if he wanted Harry to leave, he’d have said so in no uncertain terms by now.

“Can I have a go?” he says at last, stepping up beside Draco and gesturing toward the vases.

Draco pauses, still staring straight ahead. Something promising flickers in his face. “Be my guest.”

Harry allows himself a small smile of triumph. He has a feeling he should be opposed to the wanton destruction of property, but he figures it’s Draco’s property to destroy, and if he’s honest, smashing stuff is fun. Selecting a heavy smoked-glass monstrosity, Harry pulls out his wand, lifts it into the air and sends it flying against the wall, where it splinters into a thousand pieces.

A satisfying tingle runs down Harry’s wand arm, and he turns to regard Draco. The pale eyes are fixed upon him, and something warmer is edging out the pure fury of minutes ago. It’s not completely gone, but when Draco reaches for him, Harry doesn’t resist.

The kiss is slightly breathless and not at all gentle, Draco’s free hand twisting firmly into the hair at the back of his head, lips pressing close in an affirmation of mutual desire, comfort and the crackle of irritable energy that passes easily into Harry, making him kiss back harder, wrapping firm arms around Draco and urging his mouth open for more contact.

Confused but eager to go with it, Harry strokes the fine blond hair as Draco pulls away and rests his forehead on Harry’s shoulder. “You going to tell me what’s the matter now?” he half-whispers.

Draco exhales heavily and disentangles himself. He levitates another vase and swallows hard.

“They’re shutting down Chem Dep,” he says, flinging his arm out and smashing the vase forcefully.

“What?” Harry gapes, horrified.

Draco sighs and carelessly banishes the rest of the vases. “I got an owl from the chairman of the board just before the end of my shift. A fucking owl.” He shoves his wand into his waistband and rakes a hand through his hair. “They didn’t even bother to tell me in person. Bastards.”

Suddenly hot with displaced rage, Harry shifts on the spot, unable to stop shaking his head. He wants the vases back. “Shutting it down? You’ve got to be fucking joking, that’s ridiculous!”

Lifting a weary eyebrow, Draco sighs. “Not exactly something I’d joke about.”

“No, I know... sorry, it’s just...” Harry shrugs wordlessly. “I know you thought there’d be repercussions after the whole Chromia X thing, but... not so soon. Not so drastic. What are they thinking of?!”

“Money,” Draco says shortly, folding his arms across his chest.

Harry looks into eyes that gleam with anger, betrayal and pain, and winces. He has no idea what to say to help, and it’s a sobering feeling. His fix-it instinct kicks in hard and he goes with it, not having a better idea right now. “What can we do?”

Draco almost smiles. “Come on. Let’s go and find somewhere to sit.”

“Have you finished breaking things?” Harry asks, only half-joking.

“For now.” Draco wraps an arm around his waist, and the pull of Apparation prevents him from replying.

**~*~**

The small parlour that Harry finds himself in is surprisingly cosy, filled with overstuffed furniture and rugs that are probably worth more than Harry’s entire house. He examines his delicate, gold-rimmed teacup and allows Flimby to fill it, mildly surprised that Draco isn’t demanding something much stronger than tea.

Gazing at Draco through the fragrant steam, Harry wonders if he even drinks at all. It’s not as though he’s ever seen him do it.

“Remember we talked about a one-week programme?” Draco interrupts his thoughts. He nods slowly. “That’s what they’re doing. Turns out they can’t justify getting rid of Stage One, but everything else...” He trails off and bites his lip, eyes flinty.

Harry gets up out of his chair and moves over to sit beside Draco on a worn leather sofa. “They’re cutting Stage Two? All of it?”

“Yeah. All my stuff—” He waves a hand. “Gone. Bastards.”

“All your... oh, god.” Harry closes his eyes briefly as the implications properly sink in, turning his blood cold. Not only does this mean the end of the department Draco has spent five years developing, but it means that Draco is out of a job. He’d been so distracted by the fury and the vase smashing that... oh, god.

Setting his cup down carefully, Harry rests a hand on Draco’s thigh and feels him lean slightly into the touch.

“They didn’t even give an explanation. Clearly I’m not worthy of one, I’ve only been running the fucking place for five years,” Draco fumes, gripping his fragile cup dangerously hard.

“Don’t say that.”

Draco shrugs. “It’s no secret that most of the board members don’t care for me. With Algernon gone...”

“Don’t tell me you’re giving up?” Harry shifts closer and tucks one leg underneath himself, turning to face Draco. Draco makes a non-committal sound and Harry leans forward and kisses him briefly, making him look up in surprise. “Don’t you dare. Surely that’s not the final decision?”

“There’s an appeals process. I may have looked into it a little bit... the owl they sent me was the official First Notice, and according to St Mungo’s policies and procedures, the Appeal Hearing will take place a week from today. Any employee can attend.”

Hope spikes sharply and Harry hangs onto it. “So we fight, like you said.”

Draco drops his eyes and fails to hide a small smile in his teacup as he lifts it to his lips. “I’m sure all of this is massively appealing to your saving-the-day complex,” he says at last, attempting derision.

“Shut up.” Harry strokes a careless thumb over Draco’s warm, trouser-clad thigh. “Let’s talk strategy.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow and opens his mouth to reply, but Harry never gets to hear exactly what kind of strategy he might have, because the door creaks open behind Harry. Stiffening at the surprise on Draco’s face, Harry pulls his hand away and surreptitiously shuffles back a decorous few inches.

“I didn’t know you were having company, Draco,” comes a slow, refined female voice.

It’s not a voice that Harry’s heard many times before, but he still recognises it instantly. Frozen, he doesn’t dare turn around to face the door; instead he gazes appealingly into Draco’s eyes, trying to seek out any hint of fear or shame. To his surprise, Draco is completely unruffled, but then again, he reasons, Narcissa probably doesn’t know it’s him yet.

“Yes, Mother. Is everything alright?”

Harry stares hard at his hands as he hears footsteps proceed further into the room. “Of course. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

If he were challenged on it, he’d deny it, but Harry feels just a little bit sick. She doesn’t know about their relationship, he knows that, and he’s not going to push it; he hasn’t even told Molly yet and she’s the closest thing to a mother he’s ever known.

Draco coughs. “Of course,” he says, and Harry can’t help noticing that his accent sharpens to mirror his mother’s cut glass tones. “But you’ve already met Harry.”

Harry turns in his seat, and Narcissa’s delicate eyebrows shoot up. She looks older, a touch more brittle, but she hasn’t really changed much in the years since the war. Her long, ash-blonde hair cascades over one shoulder and she cuts an imposing figure, straight-backed, dressed in beautiful pale blue robes.

“Mr Potter,” she says coolly.

Remembering his manners, Harry stands and offers a hand. “Mrs Malfoy.”

She stares at him, unmoved, and makes no effort to return the gesture. After an awkward few seconds, Harry drops his hand. Exhales slowly. Now what?

The temperature in the room seems to drop several degrees and Harry resists the temptation to shiver. Fortunately, Draco steps in, rising from the sofa and standing just behind Harry. He’s a warm, comforting presence at Harry’s back, making him relax just a little.

“Harry and I work together at the hospital.”

Narcissa raises an eyebrow in a disturbingly familiar manner and rakes appraising pale blue eyes over Harry from head to toe. “I wouldn’t have thought you would need to work, Mr Potter,” she accuses.

Neither does your son, he replies silently. Not that it’s any of your business. He forces a smile. “I work because I find Healing fulfilling, not because of the money.”

He bristles slightly under Narcissa’s cold gaze, but Draco’s gentle touch, unseen, at his lower back is infinitely calming.

“I must say, I’m surprised to see you here,” she says.

Harry is saved from replying by a sudden soft metallic tinkle and clicking of claws on wood. He looks down and for the first time notices the small white dog at Narcissa’s feet. It turns in an enthusiastic circle and wags two tails in the air.

“I didn’t know you had a dog, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry says, relieved to have another focus.

She bristles. “Zeus is not a dog, Mr Potter. He is a pedigree Crup.”

At Harry’s back, Draco snorts softly, which is absolutely not helping.

“Sorry.” Zeus? Harry struggles to hide his amusement as he attempts to reconcile the Supreme God of the Olympians with the tiny, ebullient bundle of white fur currently attempting to bite one of its own tails.

“I shall leave you to your tea, Draco,” she sniffs. Turns to leave.

Unfortunately, Zeus has other ideas, and takes that as his cue to dash across the floor and prostrate himself at Harry’s feet, all four legs in the air. After taking a split-second to ponder on whether looks can indeed kill, Harry ignores Narcissa’s obvious displeasure and crouches to scratch the warm, snow white belly and ruffle Zeus’ ears.

He likes dogs. They don’t answer back.

Zeus grunts delightedly and Harry smiles. That’s two Malfoys down, he muses. One to go.

“Zeus, come!” Narcissa’s abrupt call cuts into his thoughts and he stands slowly, watching the elegant woman and her not-dog exit the room. To say that last one is looking like a bit of a challenge is possibly the understatement of the year.

Draco sighs, rubbing a hand over his face as Harry turns to face him. “She’s...” He doesn’t finish the sentence, seemingly thinking better of it. Dropping back down onto the sofa, he looks up at Harry. “At least the dog likes you.”

Harry slumps beside him, letting out a half-groan, half-laugh. “Zeus is not a dog, Draco,” he says gravely, wondering too late if mocking Draco’s mother possibly isn’t the best move.

To his relief, Draco just smirks and pours another cup of tea. “Strategy?”

There’s still a lick of pain in his eyes and a hum of fury surrounding him, but there’s something else now: pure determination. It looks fantastic on him, and Harry has to force himself to keep his hands off. For now.

Harry nods. “Strategy.”

**~*~**

Harry shuffles on the floor and rests his head in his hand, elbow propped up on the sofa cushions. He has no idea what time it is, and he doesn’t want to know—the important thing is that he’s all strategized out. And he can’t feel his arse any more.

He looks up at Draco, who’s leaning forward in his seat, scowling and crossing something out in a big black notebook. Heavy, scoring ink lines, tendons and sinews in his hands pulled tight.

“That won’t work,” he’s saying, shaking his head. “We can’t show them any weakness. You can’t appeal to the softer sides of people who don’t possess them.” He looks up, pinning Harry with fierce eyes. “Board members are a different species. They respond to numbers. Facts. We need to drown them in information.”

“And where are we going to get that information?” Harry asks, lifting his other hand from his knee to rub at his face. He’s flagging now, but he suspects that if he drinks any more tea, it’s going to start coming out of his fucking pores.

“I don’t know,” Draco snaps crossly. He throws down his quill and pushes his sleeves back up around his elbows, drags all his fingers through his hair and groans.

Harry stares at him, dry-mouthed. He feels completely weird about it, but there’s something about a serious, irritable, stressed-out Draco that makes his pulse race. He doesn’t know if it’s the hard mouth or the slightly manic gleam to his eyes or the forceful, dramatic hand gestures, but whatever it is, it’s painfully arousing.

“Draco, my brain is no longer functioning.” Harry manages a wry smile and continues before Draco gets a single word in: “And yes, indeed, when does it ever? Can we call it a night?”

For a moment, it looks as though he’s going to argue, but then he releases a ragged outward breath, nods and lets the notebook slide to the floor. Standing and stretching, he looks down at Harry with a strange, indecipherable expression on his face.

Harry scrambles to his knees, pausing to correct his balance. He chooses that moment to look up into the harassed grey eyes, which immediately flare with heat. The suggestiveness of their positions does not escape Harry and his cock twitches with interest as he reaches out and lightly runs his palms down the backs of Draco’s thighs, never letting go of the eye contact.

Flushing beautifully, Draco slides a gentle hand through Harry’s hair. Harry shivers.

“Want to come home with me?” he rasps, mouth arid.

He waits, thumbs stroking over the sensitive backs of Draco’s knees. He won’t move, not for anything, even if he is terrified that Narcissa Malfoy could open that door and find him on his knees in front of her son.

Draco shakes his head slowly. Hurt and confused, Harry continues to stare up at him. This is new, all of it, but they’ve spent several nights together at Grimmauld Place and Draco has never said no before. Maybe he’s broken some sort of unwritten rule. Harry’s heart sinks. He drops his hands to his lap and sighs, trying hard not to betray his anxiety in his eyes.

“I do have a bedroom, you know,” Draco says. He skates his fingertips along Harry’s jaw line. “Want to see it?”

Awash with relief, heart hammering and a floodtide of renewed arousal, Harry scrambles to his feet and glares at Draco, indignant and embarrassed.

“You bastard. I thought you were telling me to bugger off and leave you alone. I thought...” He bites back the next words and claims Draco’s lips in a fierce kiss. I thought you didn’t want me.

“Idiot,” Draco mumbles against his lips. “Always with the drama—”

“—oh, that’s good coming from you, Mr Vase-Flinger—”

“—have you know that’s an effective method of anger management, and—”

“—Draco. Shut up.” Sliding their tongues together slowly, Harry sinks into the kiss and barely notices when Draco pulls them hip to hip and Apparates them into his bedroom.

It’s the smell of the room that gets his attention, and he breaks the kiss reluctantly. It’s a subtle but warm, delicious scent, made up of everything that reminds him of Draco: lemons, spice, leather... Harry breathes it in deeply, stepping out of the embrace to look around.

Draco’s bedroom is twice the size of his own, which he expected. Everything else about it, though, is a surprise. The bed is huge and comfortable-looking, but isn’t some elaborately-carved four-poster like he had imagined, instead, an attractive wrought iron frame covered in pure white sheets, throws and pillows that he immediately wants to touch. Harry turns, scanning the rest of the room: neutral, coffee-coloured walls, stripped blond wood and heavy, pale curtains.

It’s simple, elegant and luxurious, and Harry is completely thrown.

“Is there something wrong with my bedroom?” comes the voice from behind him.

“It doesn’t look like I imagined,” Harry admits, not turning around.

Draco steps closer, not touching, but close enough for Harry to feel his breath against his neck and to feel the heat pouring off him. He sounds amused. “And you imagined what, exactly? Mirrors on the ceiling? Manacles on the walls? Medieval torture devices?”

Harry reaches behind himself to take Draco’s hand. “No, it’s just, I thought there would be more...” He stops, suddenly horribly embarrassed by his own stereotyping.

Draco grins slowly against the skin of his neck. “You thought there would be more green, didn’t you? Green silk sheets, perhaps? With a nice snake motif? Harry, you’re fucking priceless.”

Knowing there’s no use arguing, not when Draco’s got him bang to rights, Harry turns slowly and looks right into the mocking eyes.

“It’s very nice. Bed?”

“It is a nice bed,” Draco agrees, flicking a cursory glance at the piece of furniture in question. “Let’s mess it up.” His fingers are already slipping under the hem of Harry’s t-shirt.

When he yanks it over his head, knocking Harry’s glasses askew and ruffling his hair beyond all help, he looks so pleased with himself that Harry quickly dispels any remaining thoughts of holding back from Draco because of the day he’s had. Draco’s a grown man, he reasons, quickly divesting him of his thin grey sweater, and sex is as good a distraction as any. The best, perhaps.

“God, you smell good,” Draco whispers, soft warm lips pressed into the crook of Harry’s neck and spreading heat out from under them that creeps across Harry’s bare skin like a patch of sunlight.

“Mm,” Harry manages, letting his head fall back, eyes closed. He slides damp palms down Draco’s bare back and blindly draws him close, tight, rubbing his growing erection against Draco’s through too many layers of fabric.

The hot mouth sucking on his neck makes him groan, and oh, god, he’s not going to be able to stay vertical for long. Staggering backwards toward the bed, he attempts to unbutton and pull at all four of their layers of clothing all at once, until his anguished “Fuck!” draws Draco’s attention and his hands. They step, push, stumble, attached at the lips, fingers scrabbling for purchase on stubborn material, desperation for skin-to-skin contact everywhereclosernow building with each second that passes.

“That’s it,” Draco mumbles, one hand splayed over Harry’s arse, the other reaching down to help with some complicated manoeuvre that sees him freed of clothing. Stepping back.

“Oh, and if I just... I see.” Harry draws him back into the kiss, realising he only needs to step on the edge of his jeans there, then out, and: “...oh, bugger.”

He’s not sure exactly which one of them stepped where or when they shouldn’t have, but it’s a good thing they’re next to the bed because the arm that Harry flings out instinctively for balance does absolutely nothing to help and his eyes fly open just in time to catch Draco’s horrified expression before they both crash onto the bed, hard.

Harry had been closest, and lands flat on his back on wonderfully cool, soft blankets. Draco lands on top of him forcefully, knocking Harry’s breath from him in a sudden whumph.

Heart pounding even more than before, Harry smoothes his hand over Draco’s back and opens his eyes slowly. The room is slightly blurry without his glasses, which seem to have been dislodged in the fall, but he can see well enough to register the utter exasperation in Draco’s eyes as he lifts his head from Harry’s shoulder.

And he can’t help it. At first it’s just a twitch of the mouth, but then his shoulders start to shake, and before long, soft snorts have turned into uncontrollable belly laughter, and Draco’s pained expression and carefully arched eyebrows are not helping one bit.

Having given up on trying to control it, Harry just holds tighter to a squirming, naked Draco and laughs right in his face. The irritable mask holds for an impressive amount of time, he thinks, but when the eyebrow starts to twitch, Harry knows he’s amused, whether he likes it or not. Grinning, Harry pokes him in the ribs with a forefinger. Draco wavers, eyes glittering, and then he’s gone, pressing his nose into Harry’s chest and laughing unreservedly.

It’s a fantastic sound, and hearing it whilst stretched out naked together wraps Harry in a cloak of absolute intimacy.

“What is it with... you and... falling over?”

“Actually, I think you fell on me,” Harry points out breathlessly. “And I don’t when I’m not with you. You have this strange effect on me.”

Draco looks up and snorts, grin still tugging at his lips. “If you make the joke I think you’re going to make now, I’ll make you walk out of here naked.”

Harry, who had thought it but knows better than to say it, just smiles. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

He lifts a hand to swipe his hair out of his eyes, and suddenly Draco’s eyes turn intense. Steadying himself, he reaches out and pulls Harry’s arm towards him. Confused, Harry holds his breath and watches as Draco runs his thumb gently under the soft, worn string looped around Harry’s wrist, the one he put there himself just over a week ago. Harry knows he’s a sap for not having taken it off, but Draco hasn’t commented on it or even seemed to notice it before now.

The thumb strokes over his pulse point, tugging lightly at the string, and when Draco meets his eyes again, Harry lets out his breath in a noisy rush, all of his amusement evaporating in an instant.

He knows. Those serious, intent eyes mean business in a way that Harry doesn’t yet have words for, and actually, he’s fairly sure that words would break the spell. And there’s just no way he’s doing that, not when they’re... here. Naked, tangled, needy—that’s no longer new, but something is, and it’s perhaps the silent surrender to what they both really want.

God, he hopes so. They’ve talked enough tonight. Talked and talked and talked, and now...

Draco slides indolently against him, eyes burning, and the sensation of the hot, hard, sticky flesh slipping against Harry’s own arousal is almost too much. He groans, pushing up into the languid movement, encouraging a rhythm that’s delicious and nowhere near enough. Fingers curling around Draco’s arm awkwardly, forcing him to release Harry’s wrist and slide their palms together.

Warm, so warm, Harry reaches for Draco’s mouth, hot with frustration. Either way, it doesn’t matter, he just needs more. He doesn’t care if he’s inside Draco or Draco’s inside him, he just wants it so much that it aches horribly and he has to have it.

Their tongues touch, hot, strong, wet. Tea, salt, Draco, please.

He’s aware of the thin whimper escaping from his mouth and into the kiss, but he’s still determinedly not saying anything, and he’s startled when Draco rolls onto his side and pulls gently at his arm until he’s sprawled half on top.

Harry stares down at him. His ragged breathing suddenly seems very loud in the silence. The grey irises smoulder and fine down to a sliver around huge, lust-blown pupils as Draco stares back, hair dishevelled, one hand wrapped around Harry’s and one twisted into the sheets, exposing marked skin where Draco props himself up on one elbow.

Never looking away, Draco slides one foot up the bed, bending his knee and exposing everything to Harry, who finally manages to tear his gaze away from darkened grey eyes. He takes in the sight in front of him with ravenous eyes, understanding without the need for words that Draco is offering himself boldly, plainly and completely. Harry can’t breathe.

Draco pulls his hand away and then it’s back, pouring something slippery over Harry’s fingers that warms against his skin and is sure to ruin the sheets, but he doesn’t care, he’s not thinking any more. Just brushing his knuckles over Draco’s straining erection, down over soft, wrinkled skin and circling the puckered opening, Harry bites his lip hard and banishes his hesitation, pushing fingers inside the tight heat that grips him mercilessly.

Stroking, twisting, pulling a sharp gasp from Draco that makes Harry look up and meet his eyes, pushing harder and feeling Draco’s shudder like electricity deep in his bones. He pushes back, spreading his legs wantonly, and Harry has never seen anything so beautiful.

“Are you...?” he whispers, breaking the silence.

Yes. Now, Harry... I need you.” A final press of fingers, gripped hard. “Please.”

Oh. It’s the please that unravels Harry, and he’s there in an instant, insecurity irrelevant because this man wants him so much, so much. For a moment, he’s lost in shifting and slicking and pale thighs drawing up and watching his cock sliding inside that incredible heat that wraps around him, claiming him.

Locking eyes with Draco again, Harry pauses, oddly struck with the reality of the situation.

You’re actually doing this, whispers his subconscious. Draco flicks an eyebrow and drags him down into an awkward, messy, delicious kiss. Harry tells his subconscious to be quiet, deepens the kiss, draws his hips back and slides back inside slowly. Draco moans, and he does it again.

“Like that?”

“Mm. Hard and slow.”

Harry hastens to comply, settling into an agonising tempo for both of them, pulling back from the kiss to look into unfocused grey eyes, finding Draco’s hands and gripping hard; losing coherent thought altogether, held together only by sensation and whispered words and feeling utterly surrounded.

All he can hear are filthy slapping sounds and ragged breathing and the voice inside his head chanting yes, oh god, please please please, yes. His movements grow faster and more erratic until Draco hisses and arches, dragging both of their hands over his neglected cock, moving together.

Harry smiles breathlessly. “Yes... Draco,” he whispers, and he’s so dangerously close to the edge that the moment Draco throws his head back, tightens around him and shoots warm, sticky fluid over both their hands, he loses it completely, emptying himself inside Draco with a deep shudder that almost breaks him apart.

Payback, he thinks fuzzily as he collapses on top of Draco and rests his hot forehead on his chest. If he is crushing Draco, he apparently doesn’t mind, being that he’s not complaining but idly trailing fingers up and down Harry’s back and breathing deeply.

“I think I’m dead,” Harry mumbles after a few minutes, inhaling the scent of Draco’s skin.

“You’d better not be. How would I explain that to the Ministry? And, more to the point, to my mother?”

Horror-struck, as his faculties begin to return, Harry unpeels his face from its sticking place and looks up. Draco gazes back at him, looking wonderfully post-coital and unconcerned.

“Fucking hell, your mother!” Harry gasps.

Draco eyes him carefully. “Now, I know you’re new to all this, but yelling about fucking and my mother in the same sentence is really bad post-sex etiquette.”

Harry glares at him, unimpressed by the flippancy. “No... I mean... what if she heard? I completely forgot about her once you’d taken your clothes off.” Harry pauses, flushing. “That didn’t quite come out right.”

The hand on Harry’s back resumes its stroking as Draco snorts. Smirks. “Sex really does disable your brain, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, anyway,” he assures. “This whole room has a permanent Silencing Charm.”

Harry raises his eyebrows.

“I share a house with my mother, what would you have me do?”

Harry tweaks a nipple. Draco yelps. “This is not a house, Draco. It’s practically a castle.”

“Well, whatever. Anyway, she lives on the ground floor, you’re safe up here.”

Marginally reassured, Harry relaxes enough to cast Cleaning Spells and find a position in the bed that allows him to rest his head on the pillows but still throw a proprietary arm and leg over Draco as he stretches out on his back, wrapping strands of Harry’s hair around his fingers. The soft light in the room is soothing and definitely not enough to prevent him from falling asleep, not when he’s this relaxed.

He shifts closer and tries hard not to think sappy thoughts, but it’s pretty clear that he’s fighting a losing battle. Lost is a good word, in fact. He’s losing himself to this man, one piece at a time, and he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do to stop it. He can only hope that he’s not the only one. He can only hope that at some point he’ll be able to ask, or that he won’t need to.

Today’s shows of vulnerability can only be a good sign, he thinks, eyes heavy. He tells himself determinedly that he’s not going to ask if Draco wants him to stay, bugger it. He’s comfortable.

“I’m going to fall asleep,” Draco mumbles. Harry waits. “Can you do something about the lights? I can’t reach my wand.”

Harry smiles against the pillow. Summoning the last of his energy, he lifts his hand and whispers, “Nox.”

“Thank you.” Draco sighs softly in the darkness. “Closer.”

Harry obliges.

**~*~**

When Harry wakes, he stretches on the unfamiliar sheets and the warm weight at his side shifts and mumbles. Opening his eyes, he smiles lazily and tightens his arms around a ruffled, sleep-soft Draco, realising that this is actually the first time they’ve woken up together.

Though he’s spent several nights at Grimmauld Place, Draco always wakes long before him, and Harry invariably finds him sitting in the kitchen drinking his tea and arguing with his furniture.

This feels fantastic, and Harry really, really doesn’t want to go to work.

“What day is it?” Draco mumbles, burying his face in Harry’s neck.

“Thursday. I think.”

“Oh, bugger.”

“What’s the matter?” Harry tilts his head back to look at his grumpy bed partner.

One sleepy grey eye cracks open. “I don’t want to get up.”

Harry shuffles closer, relishing the feeling of warm bare skin and morning hardness sliding together. “Let’s not.”

“Oh, don’t tempt me,” Draco groans, and then: “Mm, well, just for a minute.” And then: “Bastarding board can kiss my unpunctual backside... yes, right there.

Harry arrives ten minutes late for the start of his shift, tousled, glowing and minus his work clothes. Cecile covers for him with Tremellen and Terry lends him a spare set of robes. Neither of them can stop smirking at him for the rest of the day, and his play for the (blueberry) flapjack is unanimously rejected before it even starts.

Bastards.

**~*~**

Friday finds the St Mungo’s general wards unusually quiet, and without the usual high-energy hustle and bustle to distract him, Harry’s thoughts very quickly turn to Draco, and ultimately to the impending hearing. Even with his famous optimism, he’s all too aware that only days remain for preparation, and that the odds are not stacked in their favour. Not that he’s ready to give in, not a chance. His personal brand of reactive stubbornness flares and shifts argument after argument over and over inside his head.

Deep in thought, he wanders from bed to bed and ward to ward, performing the familiar, well-worn checks and tests and notations on autopilot. He barely notices his colleagues as they drift about their own tasks, and even his usually troublesome patients are subdued and well-behaved.

For this reason, when Cecile steps out suddenly from behind the nurses’ station and bellows his name, Harry thinks it’s entirely reasonable that he jumps approximately three feet in the air with a sharp intake of breath and a muttered “Fuck!”

With both his peace and his train of thought utterly shattered, Harry scowls and folds his arms, waiting for Cecile to explain herself.

“Hello,” she says, smirking. “You are in there, then? I was beginning to wonder.”

Harry shifts impatiently, shoes squeaking on the shiny floor. “Cecile, just... what are you talking about?”

Murky green eyes narrow in appraisal and Harry tenses, ready to deflect any stealth hexes she might have up her sleeve. To his surprise, Cecile merely sighs. “Right, what’s up with you? Seriously. You’ve been distracted all day, and not in the good way.”

Harry shoots her a look and glances around the otherwise empty corridor. “I’m fine.”

“You know what I mean.” Cecile scrunches her nose up and lightly nudges the tip of Harry’s shoe with the toe of one canvas pump in her approximation of an affectionate gesture. “Come on, don’t make me say it... fine. I’m worried. Did Malfoy upset you?”

The little line between Cecile’s eyebrows melts some of Harry’s irritation away, and he sighs. Shakes his head and leans back on the nurses’ station.

“No, he didn’t do anything.” Harry rests his elbows on the smooth wood behind him and turns to Cecile. “The hospital wants to shut down Draco’s department. We found out a couple of days ago.”

Cecile’s eyes widen. “Fuck. What’s he going to do?”

We are going to appeal our arses off,” Harry says emphatically. “But we haven’t got long to get ready, and I’m not relishing the prospect of appearing in front of the full board completely unprepared.”

The sharp gaze is calculating. “You’re really invested in this one, aren’t you?”

Harry looks away quickly, feeling exposed. He knows he’s gone red and he hates it. “Draco or Chem Dep?” he asks pointlessly.

“Potato, potahto,” Cecile assesses, shrugging. “He is fit, I’ll give him that.”

Harry groans and stares at the floor, hair falling into his eyes. “Yes, you may have mentioned that before.” He pauses and swallows hard. “And yes, I am. Invested.”

He hears Cecile’s satisfied sigh but feels her shark-like grin without lifting his eyes from the floor.

“Can I ask you a question?” she says carefully after a moment, and if Harry had a sixth sense, it would be tingling.

Looking up, he narrows his eyes. “I suppose so... wait—does it have anything to do with sex? Because if it does, then no.”

Cecile laughs. “No, but there’s a thought...”

“Stop it. Right now.”

“Keep your hair on,” Cecile advises. “I just wondered when you first, erm... you know.”

“You know?” Harry mocks, covering his embarrassment with faux-disdain. “You’re a Healer. Surely you can be more specific than that.”

“... first, er, committed an act of indiscretion?”

Harry snorts. “You sound like a Witch Weekly journalist. And I said no questions about sex.”

“Not sex,” Cecile rebukes loudly, bristling from the slur. “Just anything. When did it first happen?”

“Keep your voice down,” Harry hisses, even though there’s no one in the corridor. Cecile, Terry and Eloise are in on the secret, of course, but he hardly thinks it’s necessary for half of the hospital to find out right now. “And if you must know, it was in the last week of our rotations.”

“Bugger.” Cecile folds her arms crossly and then eyes Harry very carefully, as though searching his face for signs of mendacity. Apparently, she finds none. “Well. Bugger.”

“Do I want to know?”

“Just a small wager.” Cecile casually brushes an invisible speck of dust from the arm of her robe. “Only between the three of us, of course. Maximum discretion,” she assures.

Harry brings both hands up to press against his face, and then drops both to his sides, turning to his friend resignedly. “Who won, then?”

Cecile pouts. “Eloise.”

Harry laughs. “Good.”

When he looks back at her, Cecile shakes off her pout and curves her thin lips into a rueful smile. He nudges her with his elbow and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly. He really has been in his own world for the last few days, he realises, and it’s good to be shaken out of his daze, regardless of the method employed.

“Is it because of the drug scandal?” Cecile says suddenly, turning serious eyes up to Harry’s. “Or is that just a good excuse?”

“What makes you say that?”

She shrugs, unsheathing her wand and examining it idly. “Just because, if I really wanted to get rid of a department, right after the head Healer had been prosecuted for drug dealing would be a really excellent time to do it, even if that wasn’t the real reason.”

Impressed, Harry nods. She’s good. “I think there’s an element of that. Mostly it’s about money, though.”

“God, what isn’t? I bet it’s Tremellen, eh? Slimy bastard.” Cecile brandishes her wand, stepping away from the nurses’ station and into a classic duelling stance. “Want me to... incapacitate him?”

Harry lifts an eyebrow, amused despite the gravity of the situation. “Tempting, Cecile, but I don’t think sabotage is our best bet at this point.”

Cecile lowers her wand and regards Harry, head tilted on one side. “That’s where you’re wrong. It’s always a good time for sabotage.”

“I worry about you sometimes,” Harry says drily.

“Really, there’s no need.” She slashes her wand through the air again, creating a trail of silver sparks that graze Harry’s nose and smell faintly of peppermint. “I could hex his mouth shut. I’ve always wanted to do that,” she muses. “I think there’s a spell that would make him literally talk out of his arse...”

As she speaks, Terry Apparates in directly behind her and stands perfectly still, listening as she continues to suggest more and more creative ways of punishing their much-maligned mentor.

“Cecile,” Harry puts in eventually. “There’s someone behind you.”

Terry’s dark eyes flare with amusement as Cecile’s face drains of all colour and she falls silent. Harry keeps his face expressionless. She turns around very, very slowly.

She groans loudly as soon as her eyes settle on Terry, shoulders sagging with relief. Grinning, Terry joins Harry at his leaning post and they both easily dodge Cecile’s hex, letting it collide harmlessly with the varnished wood.

“You’re both bastards,” she opines, putting her wand away.

“Slow day.” Terry shrugs.

“Dangerous combination,” Harry agrees, pulling a face at Cecile. In truth, he appreciates the distraction, but it wouldn’t do to tell her that. Oh no.

**~*~**

It’s after six by the time Harry gets off shift and trails up to Chem Dep. He stretches languorously in the corridor outside the lab, shaking off both his robes and his torpor with some effort. The door opens easily at his touch and he’s amused to see Draco almost buried in paperwork, perched on one of the tall stools at the worktable, frowning, quill in hand and nose smudged with green ink.

For the first time that Harry can remember, the cauldrons are empty and the heavy odour of Anti-Chromia Potion that he’s become accustomed to is conspicuous by its absence. Draco seems to have elected to turn his lab into a temporary ‘Save Chem Dep’ command post. He has an office, of course, but the lab is larger and further away from the patients, should any ranting occur.

Like now, for instance.

“Do you know who I saw in the canteen this morning?” Draco says, looking up from the mountains of parchment. Harry shakes his head mutely, assuming the question is rhetorical. “Augustus fucking Tremellen. And he smirked at me. No word of a lie—the greasy bugger looked me right in the eyes and smirked. It’s like he’s proud of himself.”

Harry sighs and takes up the other stool, trying to make room for his elbows amongst all of Draco’s stuff. It’s not as though he disagrees, but every now and then, he’s the one that has to be the voice of reason.

“I don’t doubt that for a moment, I’m sure he thinks he’s got one over on you something proper. But, don’t forget, he’s just one board member. There are how many of them?”

“Fourteen.” Draco scratches his nose with his quill, smudging the ink stain even more. “We need three to reverse the decision.”

“Well, then. Forget Tremellen, he’s beyond hope.” Harry leans closer across the table and rests his feet on the rungs of Draco’s stool, brushing warm calf against warm calf and relishing the simple, easy contact.

Draco meets his eyes and treats him to a split-second glimpse of that brilliantly unguarded smile before he looks down at the parchment again, leaving Harry to gaze sappily at the top of his head.

“You’re staring,” Draco complains, mouth twitching at the corners.

“Can’t help it.”

Harry also can’t help but be impressed by a snort that’s simultaneously pleased and derisive.

“Granger sent me some interesting Ministry stats.” Draco starts scribbling again and with his free hand holds out a letter clipped to a thick sheaf of parchments covered in figures.

Harry accepts the stack and starts flipping through it. After a minute or two, the graphs and columns of numbers start to hurt his eyes, and he can only concede that both Hermione and Draco have longer attention spans than he has. “This stuff makes sense to you, I take it?”

“Of course. Have you read the letter?”

“Oh. No.” Harry smoothes the topmost parchment back down and reads.

Draco –

You might find these useful. I shouldn’t really, but I can’t stand by and let them do what they’re doing.

If asked, though, YOU DID NOT GET THIS INFORMATION FROM ME.

Good luck.

Hermione Granger.


Harry smiles. It’s very Hermione: short, to the point, polite to a fault, and typically apologetic about breaking the rules. She’d been horrified when Harry had filled her in on the board’s decision the night before. So aghast, in fact, that she’d used the f-word. More than once.

Her indignation had been clear to Harry even through the Floo, and the fire-call had ended shortly afterwards. His suspicion that she had gone straight into research mode seems to have been correct.

“When in doubt, study,” Harry mumbles to himself, experimentally picking up the heavy stack and dropping it onto the work surface. It makes quite a satisfying thomp sound and displaces several lighter leaves of loose parchment, sending them floating serenely to the floor.

Draco looks up, irritated, but the scowl combined with the hair falling into his eyes and the green ink daubed across the bridge of his nose makes him look inconveniently, turn-Harry’s-insides-to-mush, adorable.

“I hope you’re going to pick those up.”

“Of course.” Harry grins at the thought of what Draco might do to him if he said the word ‘adorable’ out loud, and scrambles to retrieve the scattered parchments.

“I don’t know why she’s helping me,” Draco muses as Harry struggles to lift the papers from the shiny floor with his non-existent fingernails. “We haven’t even had a consultation in person yet... granted, we’ve sent a lot of owls back and forth but we’re not exactly friends. I don’t understand her.”

Harry slides back onto his stool and meets his suspicious frown with an exasperated sigh. Draco understands a lot of things most people wouldn’t, but he can’t seem to get his head around why someone might do something for him without demanding something in return.

“Well, I do,” he asserts. “For one thing, she’s furious about what they’re doing—you must know by now that she’s got a bee of epic proportions in her bonnet about limited wizard-specific rehab. Hermione loves a cause.” He shrugs. “Chem Dep, and by extension, you, are a cause.”

Draco curls his lip in distaste. “Merlin give me strength.”

“Look, I know you don’t like it, but we need all the help we can get. And anyway, you should see it as a sort of... olive branch.”

“Excuse me?”

Harry rests his chin in his hands to stop himself from slamming it down on the worktop. “You’re not so pure-blooded that you haven’t read the Bible, surely?”

Draco blinks. Mumbles incomprehensibly.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. A peace offering, I mean. When Hermione reaches out, she does it with a hand full of information. That’s just the way she is. When I was at school, she used to make me revision timetables... it’s a similar sort of thing.”

“That is very, very strange. And why would she care about me?”

Harry reaches over and flicks Draco on the wrist. “You’re impossible, do you know that?”

“Yes.” Draco examines his wrist carefully, looking for signs of damage. “You tell me frequently.”

“Well. She’s trying to care about you, because I care about you,” Harry admits, feeling curiously vulnerable at the admission.

“She’s trying?” Draco repeats, completely missing the point.

You’re trying,” Harry mutters, but smiles at the fingers that lace through his on the tabletop for no apparent reason. Though Draco actually seems to like being touched, it’s rare for him to initiate contact outside of the bedroom.

“I’m trying—” Draco smirks and then looks down at his parchment, “—to summarise all of that information into an argument that your average cash-register-for-a-brain, cold-hearted bastard board member will understand,” he says, vitriolic words tripping off his tongue with scarily casual ease.

“Want to practise on me?” Harry offers. “I’ve got some time before I have to meet Ron and Hermione to talk about you.”

The hand under his tenses and Draco wrinkles his nose. “I’m not biting.”

“Pity.”

Draco’s astonished glance is immensely rewarding. Harry smiles to himself and directs him back to his task.

“Right. Well, you’re much smarter than a board member—yes, I know it’s shocking—but alright.”

Harry props his chin up in his free hand and chews on his nails as he listens to Draco telling him about funding streams and the comparable costs of rehab versus the cost to the hospital of treating users and victims of users.

About Ministry studies demonstrating the ineffectiveness of pure detox programmes, relapse rates, and the financial implications of repeated detoxes compared with the relatively inexpensive Chem Dep programme.

It makes perfect sense, and as Harry listens, he allows himself to feel just a little bit hopeful. Whatever happens, they won’t be giving in easily, and Hermione, ever resourceful, has given them a fighting chance.

“What do you think?” Draco says eventually, pulling his hand away from Harry’s to shuffle the papers in front of him.

“That it’s not over yet.”

Draco smiles, long fingers spread out across lines of writing. “Anything else?”

“Yeah.” Harry leans over and swipes his thumb down the side of Draco’s nose, then holds his hand up to show him the smudge of green. “You’re covered in ink.”

Draco kicks him under the table.

**~*~**

Harry swipes curly brown hair out of his eyes and refocuses on the glossy, leather-bound menu in front of him, trying to decide on one of a bewildering selection of steaks.

“This is a proper restaurant,” Ron had said happily, as the three of them had been shown to a corner booth with low lighting, dark wood and suede banquettes. Hermione had rolled huge blue eyes and muttered under her breath about typically macho dining experiences.

Harry can’t say he cares; he’s ravenous and the warm, savoury aroma in the air is making his mouth water.

“Surely no one can eat a seventy-two ounce steak.” Harry frowns, looking up at Ron, who is the accepted authority on the subject.

“That’s the whole point.” Ron grins, exposing crooked teeth. “If you can eat the whole thing, you get it for free.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Hermione sniffs. “I’m getting something that wasn’t once half a cow.”

Harry grins, both at her tone and at Ron’s expression of exasperation.

“You’ll never understand steakhouses, ’Mione.” He shakes his head sadly.

“I can deal with that,” she assures him, filling all three wine glasses. “How’s the campaign going? Did Draco find a use for the information I sent him?” She looks at Harry expectantly.

He opens his mouth to respond, but is cut off by Ron’s lightly incredulous, “I still can’t believe you’re seeing Malfoy.”

Harry simply smiles at his friend and raises his glass to his lips. He’s not worried; Ron’s quiet disbelief over the whole situation has prompted him to utter that exact sentence every time Draco’s name is mentioned in Harry’s company. It’s been two weeks now, and his tone has softened considerably. Harry reckons it’s only a matter of time before he stops saying it completely.

“Denial won’t help, Ron,” says Hermione, briskly tucking dirty-blonde hair behind her ears.

“It’s not denial. I know it’s happening. It’s just weird.”

Knowing it could have been a lot worse makes it somehow easier for Harry to just be amused by the whole thing. He folds his arms across his menu and shrugs.

“Says the man who was ready to sacrifice me to Rodriguez and his raging... well, actually... I can’t imagine anything of his being raging,” Harry muses.

Hermione screws up her face in disgust.

“Yeah, well...” Ron blusters, flushing slightly. “Anyway!” He looks up, brightening. “Rodriguez is straight, after all that.”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “How do you know for sure?”

“I asked him,” Ron says proudly.

Hermione snorts into her glass. Shakes her head slowly.

“You asked him.” Harry studies his friend’s earnest face carefully, highly entertained. That, he would have liked to have seen.

“Yep. He stared at me for about five minutes, and then told me... well, let’s just say I believe him.”

Attention caught by the sudden twist of Ron’s mouth, Harry looks at Hermione, but she shrugs. “What did he say?”

“Seriously, Harry.” Ron shudders, face suddenly grim. “If you can just believe me without needing to hear what I had to hear, it would be a lot better for you.”

Harry’s mind is abruptly assaulted by an influx of images starring Ron’s stuffy partner in an increasingly disturbing series of scenarios, each more depraved and kinky than the last. His eyes widen in horror and catch Ron’s haunted gaze. Ron nods slowly, as if to say ‘Seriously, you don’t want to know,’ and Harry drains the contents of his glass in one go.

The images his brain helpfully supplies to displace a PVC-clad Rodriguez fill him with warmth, and he’s quite happily reliving a vivid sense-memory of Draco’s heated goodbye kiss of not two hours ago, until Hermione coughs sharply. When he startles and looks at her, her knowing grin makes his face flame.

“Speaking of me and Rodriguez,” Ron continues, having completely missed Harry and Hermione’s silent exchange. They both turn to him. He sits up a fraction straighter and lifts his chin. “We have a new brief.”

Hermione smiles proudly, strange blue eyes glowing.

“Go on,” Harry urges.

“Well, it turns out that after the Redrow case, the Ministry’s keen to get behind this ‘Clean up the Streets’ campaign that the Prophet’s running,” he explains, fiddling with a heavy silver fork. “Apparently it’s all about improving the public image of the Auror office, but whatever. Rodriguez and I are going to be heading up the new Substance Control Division.”

Grinning, Harry reflects Ron’s thoroughly chuffed expression back to him. “That’s fantastic, mate.”

Ron lifts his glass briefly, mirroring Harry and Hermione’s gesture. “Thanks. I know it’s more about their public profile than it is about us, but I’m not complaining. A step up is a step up,” he assesses, shrugging philosophically.

“Absolutely,” Harry agrees, relieved that he’s under no illusions about his employers’ machinations, but delighted all the same. “And you know, it’s got to be more interesting than running around after small-time Muggle-baiters all the time.”

“And chasing after supposed Death Eater sightings,” puts in Hermione, stressing the word ‘supposed’ and flashing a wry smile. She squeezes Ron’s hand and he releases the fork.

“That as well.” Harry sniffs the air hopefully, stomach growling, and is rewarded when the waiter appears with their food.

“I think it’ll be exciting. The Muggles have a name for it, you know,” Ron says, inhaling deeply over his plate and brandishing his steak knife. “Er... oh, yeah. Vice!” He grips the knife in both hands and holds it at arms’ length, miming aiming a gun, eyes darting around the room.

Harry laughs and sits back in his chair to avoid being stabbed in the eye. “What have you been watching?”

“All sorts.” Ron grins and lowers the steak knife. “It’s all that stuff, you know... sex and drugs and...”

“Rock and roll?” Hermione suggests innocently, sliding chicken pieces from their skewers onto her plate.

Ron’s brow furrows as he glances at her. “No, I don’t think so.”

Harry hides his smile and starts into his steak. It’s cooked to perfection and he sighs contentedly, cutting slice after slice of tender, smoky meat and buttery new potatoes, washing them down with heavy red wine as he half-listens to Ron and Hermione’s comfortably familiar bickering.

“Look at that blood oozing out everywhere,” she says disdainfully.

Look at that blood oozing out everywhere,” Ron mimics, mouth full of half-masticated cow. “Mm, delicious.”

Harry snags Ron’s sauce boat while he’s not looking and pours it over his steak. He can’t help but feel a little pang of longing as he listens to them, and is all-at-once very conscious of the empty seat beside him. It isn’t as though his friends make him feel like a third wheel these days, but now that he has someone who could conceivably occupy that seat, he wonders if he ever will.

Weird as it would be for them, Ron especially, Harry feels confident that his friends would make an effort if Harry wanted to invite Draco on one of their nights out. Draco, though... Harry sighs and sets his knife and fork down, scraping metal against metal as he pushes the too-long hair from his face again.

Harry hasn’t asked him, and he won’t ask him. He doesn’t want to see the look of disdain or horror or incredulity on Draco’s face. But he’s not going to ask, so it doesn’t matter. With some effort, Harry shakes himself and sheds the wretched thought like a shroud.

“...didn’t ask them about funding, ’Mione, but I would think so, yeah,” Ron is saying as he tunes back in.

Hermione shakes her head and stabs viciously at a chunk of mushroom. “You know what’s insane? That they recognise the need for a Substance Control Division within the Ministry, but they won’t look at funding treatment centres, and they’re still happier sending addicts to Azkaban than making any effort to rehabilitate them.”

“That’s the Ministry for you.” Harry licks his fork. “I don’t think logic is their strong point.”

“Well, no. But I’m hoping they do have the capacity to listen to logic, because this paper we’re going to put together has the opportunity to get the laws changed.” Hermione’s eyes sparkle. “Isn’t that exciting?”

“Very,” Ron says indulgently. “’We’ as in...?”

Hermione bites her lip. “We as in Draco and I, actually. But...” She glances at Harry, concern evident on her face. “But he’s got bigger fish to fry right now, I suppose.”

Her interest is genuine and Harry is touched. “That was a nice thing you did, sending that stuff. He can’t get his head around why anyone would give a crap, but he thinks it’s really going to help.”

Hermione twirls her glass stem between slender fingers. “Why wouldn’t I? Give... er, a crap, that is?”

“I don’t think it’s a reflection on you,” Harry assures. “I don’t think he’s really had the sort of friendships we’ve had.”

Suddenly thoughtful, Hermione picks at her plate delicately and nods. “Hmm,” is all she says, but the meaning is not lost on Ron.

He looks between them, eyes wide. Carefully, he mops up the last of his steak juices with a bit of bread roll, eats it and folds his arms on the table, pushing his plate away. Exhaling heavily, his expression shifts to one of resignation.

“We’re reaching out, aren’t we?” he addresses Hermione. She just smiles and strokes a strand of hair out of his face.

Amused, Harry sips his wine and watches in silence their tacit communication.

“Oh, buggering hell... do I have to stop calling him Malfoy?” Ron asks forlornly, turning to him.

Hermione laughs. Harry thinks that somewhere, Draco’s ears are burning.

He shakes his head. “Another glass of wine, Ron?”

**~*~**

The weekend passes quickly. Draco doesn’t ask what they might or might not have said about him on Friday night, and Harry doesn’t tell him. In any case, he barely has time to think about it.

The day of the appeal meeting is approaching fast and tensions are running high—and they are, regardless of the strong, imperturbable front that Draco is attempting to put across. Harry watches him, and sees the crackle of strain underneath the fury and determination, the flashes of fear that colour the typically-Draco outbursts of biting humour.

For a man on the edge of losing everything he’s worked for, he’s oddly single-minded about never saying so in as many words.

“No, Harry,” he’s saying, eyes glinting in the semi-darkness of Harry’s living room. “I’m going to be professional, prepared and uncompromising... and you are going to be Harry Potter: Order of Merlin, First Class and all-round big deal.” Harry snorts, and Draco continues: “As opposed to Harry Potter, newly-qualified Healer and stater of the bloody obvious.”

Harry would be offended by that, but Draco’s got a point, and he’s under a lot of pressure. He just smirks and pulls his feet up onto the cushions, mirroring Draco’s cross-legged, straight-backed posture at the opposite end of the sofa. The flurry of parchment leaves is less noticeable here than in Draco’s sterile lab or immaculate parlour. Harry tends to leave things where they fall when he’s in a rush, which is often.

“Come on then, let’s run through these one more time,” Harry suggests, touching the notepad on his knee.

He no longer needs to look at the list of names, and instead looks at Draco, whose skin seems to glow in the firelight. He sighs inwardly; it’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, but it’s almost impossible to strategise when sitting three feet away from someone he wants so fucking much.

“Hit me.”

Harry nods. “Stopforde?”

Draco folds his arms across his chest. “Tight as anything. Cold hard cash. Show him the graphs.”

“Bowfleet?”

“Semi-sympathetic. Play to the angle of relapse rates.”

“Aquiline?”

“Conservative—remind her of how well the current system works.”

“Tremellen?” Harry grimaces.

“Lost cause. Hex on sight.”

Draco,” Harry admonishes, but can’t resist a smile.

Draco rolls his eyes. “Don’t let him wind me up. The same goes for you, you know.”

“I know. Gretagne?” Harry shuffles closer and throws a leg over Draco’s lap, abandoning his list and resting his head on Draco’s warm shoulder.

“Big nose.”

Harry pauses in his absent-minded stroking. “What?”

“Healer Gretagne has a really big nose,” Draco elaborates. “It’s true.”

“Yes, but...”

“If you want me to make sense,” Draco points out, rough-toned, “I suggest you remove your hand from my... oh.”

Harry smiles slowly at the easy surrender, and presses his palm more firmly against Draco’s denim-covered crotch. A strong hand slides over his thigh and he inhales deeply against the soft skin of Draco’s neck.

“Want to take a break?”

“Just a quick one,” Draco whispers.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” Harry kicks the rest of the notes to the messy floor and climbs into Draco’s lap, pinning his shoulders against the sofa back and kissing him without hesitation.

All things in balance.

**~*~**

At ten minutes to nine on Wednesday morning, Harry heads for the fifth floor. He’s managed to swing an eleven-eight shift, so that not even Tremellen can complain that he’s shirking his patient responsibilities to attend the appeal meeting. His robes are freshly pressed, his hair is beyond help, and he’s feeling confident.

“Harry!”

Halfway up the spiral staircase, he stops. Peers down to the three upturned faces regarding him from the ground floor. Harry smiles.

“What?”

“We just came to say good luck,” Terry calls, hands plunged deep into the pockets of his green robes.

“Don’t take no for an answer,” Eloise advises, smiling prettily.

“Take the bastards down, Harry!” Cecile yells, small fist raised forcefully. Harry laughs, fingers wrapped around the balustrade as he leans down to them. A passing nurse shoots Cecile a dark look but she doesn’t bat an eyelid.

Fortified by his co-workers’ unquestioning solidarity, Harry grins. “Thanks, guys. See you in a couple of hours.”

Conscious of the time, he turns away from them and continues up the staircase. He finds Draco already standing outside the main double doors of Chem Dep, arms wrapped around a collection of files and looking, to the uninitiated observer, hard, cold and composed.

He’s dressed in his usual ‘uniform’ of dark trousers and expensive, light-coloured sweater, and Harry’s relieved to see that he’s making no concessions for the occasion. Draco’s sleeves are rolled to the elbow as always, allowing Harry to see the tension he’s carrying in his forearms and hands.

Grey eyes warm slightly as they rest upon Harry, and he only just resists the urge to offer a reassuring touch.

“Ready to go?”

Draco arches an eyebrow. “As I’ll ever be.”

Harry rests a hand on the nearest door, pensive. “Have you told them?”

“The patients? No.”

“Why not?”

Draco almost smiles, but doesn’t quite manage it. “Because, half of them would be genuinely scandalised and completely distracted from their recovery. The other half would pretend to be scandalised in order to completely distract from their recovery.”

Harry can’t really argue with that. “Well, when you put it like that... ready to go?”

Draco sighs. Looks down at the files in his arms. Looks back at the department, just once. Nods. “Yes.”

**~*~**

The boardroom is surprisingly small but extravagantly furnished, especially for a hospital that’s supposedly so concerned about money, Harry notes with some irritation.

He takes his seat next to Draco and surveys the collection of faces around the polished oak table; each is a department head and an influential witch or wizard in their own right, resplendent in green white-flashed robes. Draco, in fact, is the one person in the room not dressed in lime-green, and Harry has a momentary flash of sympathy for him and his sensitive eyes.

The table is oval-shaped, Harry and Draco occupying one curved end, opposite the Chairman, one Healer Hastings, a shrivelled, grey-haired man with a soft voice and a commanding presence. Harry prides himself on not being intimidated by authority or fancy job titles. He’s faced down scarier people than Chairman Hastings in the past, and it’s with some satisfaction that he meets the old man’s gaze with one that is equally steady.

The room is oppressively silent, and he can hear Draco breathing slowly and shuffling papers at his side, his right shoe a steady pressure against Harry’s left under the table.

A shaft of morning sunlight pierces the gloom and glances off the shiny wood. The air smells like warm dust and the lingering lavender of the occupants’ robes. Draco wrinkles his nose, just once.

Once the formalities are out of the way, Chairman Hastings turns to Draco and inclines his head.

“You may speak, Mr Malfoy.”

And he does. Draco thanks the man courteously, laces his fingers together on top of the notes he doesn’t really need and launches into the speech they have been preparing all week.

Harry folds his hands in his lap and says nothing. He knows that his power and influence as a trainee Healer is next to non-existent, and he also knows that he’ll never be a world-class orator. Not like Draco. For want of anything better to do until he is required, Harry watches, listens and admires.

For all of his—admittedly, well-concealed—nervousness, Draco is calm, authoritative and strong. The persuasive words slip off his tongue with a fluidity that makes Harry light-headed, and he doesn’t look away from his audience for a moment. When he lifts his left hand to brush the hair from his eyes, the Healer to Harry’s other side inhales sharply, but Draco does not even break his stride.

“As you can see,” he’s saying, “the figures speak for themselves.” Draco flicks his wand to magically enlarge one of Hermione’s graphs, which he has carefully duplicated and altered to remove any incriminating Ministry insignias. “The costs of cutting the existing Stage Two programme are far-reaching, from both a financial and a patient care perspective.”

As Draco explains the breakdown of the statistics, Harry takes his cue to issue the information to the board members on individual sheets of parchment. He uses a wandless Distribution Charm, because if ever there was a good time to show off, it’s now. He notes two or three raised eyebrows with a small smile and looks down at his own sheet.

When Draco finishes speaking, Harry glances at him, takes in his composed expression and slightly quickened breathing with a surge of raw pride. Draco hates most of these people and everything they stand for, but he’s done it.

“Healer Potter,” says the Chairman. “Have you something to add?”

His voice is cool but not unpleasant, and Harry straightens in his seat. Under normal circumstances, he is absolutely loath to do so, but he knows that here in this room, he has to use his influence as the-man-who-ended-the-war to Draco’s advantage.

Not in so many words, of course. ‘Subtlety will not kill you,’ Draco had said. He’s probably right.

“Yes, Chairman Hastings.” Harry looks around the table and the look he receives from Tremellen chills him. Glancing away hastily, he continues, anchoring himself to the press of Draco’s expensive shoe leather against his. “With respect, the decision to close down this hospital’s dependency programme would be a disastrous one. There exists no other facility specifically for wizards within a hundred-mile radius. Chem Dep is the only option available to these people, and with it gone, the repercussions would be huge. Not just for St Mungo’s but for Wizarding society.”

Harry pauses and, with some effort, screws up his principles. “As I’m sure you know, I have contacts in several important departments within the Ministry.” Several sets of eyes around the table sharpen. “They recognise the scale of the problem and are throwing themselves behind the Prophet’s ‘Clean up the Streets’ campaign. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

There are some low murmurs of agreement, and Harry opens his mouth to continue when he’s interrupted by Tremellen. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised.

“Your presence here baffles me, Healer Potter. You are not a board member, nor do you work in the Department of Chemical Dependency. Or is it just that yourself and Malfoy here are unable to do anything separately these days?”

Every eye in the room fixes on them at this insinuation, and Harry fights down a blush, angry and humiliated. He ignores the remark, even though he feels Draco stiffen beside him.

The unprofessional, obstructive bastard, he seethes silently. It takes real effort to keep his tone civil, but he manages it.

“I appreciate that I’m not a board member, Healer Tremellen. I happen to care a great deal for Chem Dep and as far as I was informed, the appeals process does not bar any interested party from attending the hearing.”

“That’s correct, Healer Potter,” says a severe-looking dark haired witch that Harry recognises as the head of Dark Arts Reversals, Healer Aquiline. “Won’t you let him talk, Augustus?”

Tremellen says nothing, but Chairman Hastings rumbles, “Proceed.”

Harry shoots Healer Aquiline a small, grateful smile and continues. “As I was saying, public awareness of the drug problem is at an all-time high, and withdrawing from the fight in this way can only be damaging for St Mungo’s public profile, at a time when we should be moving in the opposite direction.”

“What are you saying, Healer Potter?” demands big-nosed Gretagne.

“I’m saying that with a combination of reversing this decision, and... er, well-placed influence,” he stumbles slightly, unable to spit out the words ‘my influence’, “we could raise the profile of this hospital with the Ministry, and in turn, potentially secure extra funding across departments,” he finishes in a rush, looking around at the board.

Nothing is said for what feels like a long time and Harry looks down at his hands, feeling dirty. He daren’t even look at Draco, but he can feel the heat of irritation pouring off him and knows he’s losing patience rapidly.

“As you say, Healer Potter, the issue has come to light, not least because of events that transpired within the department in question itself,” says Bowfleet, looking regretful. Something in his expression snags at Harry and he suddenly has the most unpleasant tipping sensation: the recognition that this might not be going their way.

“Chem Dep is an invaluable department,” Draco insists, speaking for the first time in several minutes. “Don’t make this decision just because of what Algernon Redrow did. We need this department.”

“With respect, Mr Malfoy,” says Chairman Hastings, cutting across the murmurs of dissent with no effort whatsoever. “Healer Redrow’s actions merely delayed the inevitable. I’m afraid that personnel and resources are too scarce to be able to support any non-essential department.”

“Non-essential?” Draco demands, letting emotion tinge his voice at last.

Harry’s stomach roils horribly at the sound, and at the implication. Suddenly, he can’t wait to be out of this stuffy, hostile room. He looks helplessly at Draco whilst keeping his expression neutral, wanting to offer a calming hand but knowing it won’t help. Tremellen’s remark still rankles, and though Harry’s certain he doesn’t know how close the truth he is, it doesn’t stop him from wanting to accept Cecile’s offer to hex his mouth shut.

“These decisions are not made lightly, Mr Malfoy,” someone is saying, but Harry’s not listening. He’s drinking deeply from his goblet of water and waiting for the whole thing to be over. Draco’s going to want to dissect every exchange, and the thought is already hurting his head.

“If there’s nothing else...?” The Chairman looks around the room. “This hearing is concluded. Mr Malfoy, Healer Potter, you are dismissed. The board will reconvene after lunch to discuss the outcome of this meeting.” He stands, and everyone else stands immediately in deference. Harry bangs his shin on the leg of his chair and tries not to swear under his breath.

As they file out of the room, Harry goes to follow Draco back to Chem Dep, but someone catches his arm, and not gently either.

“Your patients are this way, Healer Potter.”

“Er, my shift doesn’t start until eleven, Healer Tremellen,” Harry points out. His eyes flick to Draco, who has stopped in the middle of the corridor, arms full of files once again.

“It’s ten forty-five.” Tremellen lets go of Harry’s sleeve but does not step away. “You’ll be early for once, I’m sure your patients will appreciate it.”

Harry sighs softly and looks the older man in the eye, nodding reluctantly. He turns to follow Tremellen to the stairs, looking back at Draco apologetically. Draco shrugs carelessly with one shoulder but his eyes give him away, as they always do.

“Mr Malfoy will survive,” Tremellen opines, and Harry tears his eyes away from Draco. He looks not at his mentor, but at the floor, not wanting to see the contempt for Draco that burns clear on his face. Harry thinks he’s probably burnt his own bridges with the man after their almost-confrontation over Redrow’s arrest. Not that he cares.

“He always does,” Harry says, and in spite of the last two hours, he smiles.

Chapter Text

“Would you stop brooding?” Cecile demands, waving a hand in front of Harry’s face.

He sighs, pulls a face at her, and feels a little bit better. “I’m not brooding. I’m thinking.”

“She’s right, you know,” Eloise speaks up from next to him, her voice at least a touch more comforting. “What’s done is done. Drink your coffee.”

Harry sips obediently and trades a harassed glance with Terry across the table. The canteen is warm, humming with activity and precisely not where Harry wants to be on his first break since nine a.m.

It was almost three by the time he’d had chance to pause, and though he’d itched to head for the fifth floor, he’d known Draco would still be in group. Sensing his indecision, Cecile had dragged him down to the canteen before he’d had time to protest.

He knows his friends are right, and he also knows that it’s not even remotely his battle, but such logic does nothing to dampen the need for justice, and to stand up for the preservation of something that Draco Malfoy cares deeply for. That, Harry decides firmly, is just the way things are.

He wonders how long the board will keep them waiting.

“So she said, ‘Oh, Healer Boot, how about one last kiss for a dying old woman?’ and started doing this at me,” Terry is saying, pursing his lips theatrically.

Cecile reflects the expression back to him and adds appropriate smacking noises. Harry smiles.

“What did you do?” Eloise wants to know, gripping her teacup hard.

“I told her she wasn’t dying.” Terry smiles slowly, dark eyes gleaming. “I’ve never seen anyone hear that and look so disappointed. Think I should take it as a compliment?”

“Definitely,” Harry agrees. At least he’s not the only old-lady magnet at St Mungo’s.

Cecile resumes making kissy noises, making Terry back up until he’s right on the edge of his chair. When a shadow falls over the table, they all turn to look, and Cecile freezes, mid-smacker, at the expression on Draco’s face. Harry meets his eyes slowly and his stomach drops through the floor.

“I think I need a chair,” Draco says.

It’s a moment before anyone reacts, but in the end it’s Terry who carefully levitates an empty chair from a nearby table and sets it down next to Draco.

“There you are, mate,” he says softly, and Harry imagines that it’s the suspicious brightness of Draco’s eyes that prompts his friend to extend the familiarity for the first time.

“Thanks.” Draco sits heavily and takes Harry’s coffee cup out of his hands, draining it in two gulps. He sets the cup down, rakes through his hair and then drops both hands into his lap. “That’s it, then,” he says.

“Officially?” Cecile prompts, leaning forward on her folded arms.

“Officially, indisputably, categorically... un-fucking-fairly.” Draco unfolds a piece of parchment from his pocket and slams it down on the table top. Harry doesn’t need or want to read it; his insides are twisting with disappointment and ire and concern. He watches for a moment as the other three slide the parchment into the centre of the table and pore over it, frowning.

“I don’t know what to say, Draco,” he says at last, almost choking on the dry lump in his own throat as Draco shrugs valiantly and tries, just for a moment, to pretend that he’s OK and that it doesn’t matter.

“It’s alright. I don’t think it would help if you did.” He laughs softly, hollowly, and it hurts. “I’ve got four weeks to wind everything up, deal with the existing patients and find a home for all my referral requests. Four weeks.”

Harry winces. Not daring to touch him openly in the middle of the canteen, he rests a fleeting hand on Draco’s knee under the table; it’s nowhere near enough, but it’s a promise.

“Four weeks is ridiculous. God, they were really determined to do this, weren’t they?”

Draco nods. “It didn’t matter what we did or said in that appeal. They’d already made their minds up.” He rests his head in one hand, elbow propped up on the table, eyes on Harry. “Why the fuck did I even allow myself to hope that we had a chance to change it?”

Harry thinks perhaps that’s his fault, the hope. But still, he wouldn’t take it back. “We had to try.”

“Yeah,” Draco sighs, not sounding at all convinced.

Finally, Terry, Eloise and Cecile look up from their study of Draco’s letter wearing remarkably similar serious faces. Harry watches as Draco turns to regard them, and it’s possible to see the exact moment that the grey eyes turn stricken as he realises quite how vulnerable he’s allowing himself to be in front of three people that he still doesn’t know all that well.

Before the shutters come crashing down, though, a dull scraping sound makes Draco look, and Harry follows his eyes.

Without a word, Eloise slides her plate across the table to Draco and then withdraws her hand. The small plate contains a single untouched slice of sticky chocolate fudge cake that Eloise had purchased with some excitement not fifteen minutes earlier. Draco looks at it and then looks at Eloise in silence and for a second, Harry thinks he looks like he might cry.

“It’s not Thursday,” Draco says at last.

“It’s not a flapjack,” Cecile offers, proving that Harry isn’t the only one who can state the obvious.

“No pity games today,” Eloise says, shrugging. “You just look like you need it more than I do.”

Draco continues to stare for a few moments longer before finally, he nods gravely, thanks her and sticks his finger into the chocolate icing with a heavy sigh. Secretly, Harry thinks it’s a good sign if he’s still willing to eat cake; when Draco refuses a free dessert, the world really is falling apart.

Silently, Harry gives in and reaches for the letter, scanning the almost calligraphy-like script of Chairman Hastings’ secretary.

... regret to inform you... appeal denied... original decision upheld... as per policies and procedures... closure of ‘Stage Two’ programme... four-week notice period... position will no longer exist... appreciative of your years of service...

Harry pushes the parchment away in disgust. There’s a good chance that he’s being over-optimistic; just because Draco is very good at pretending his world isn’t falling in doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Chem Dep was his redemption, and the one thing that he believes shows the world that he’s a changed man.

Looking up, Harry listens to the conversation around him at the table, consisting mostly of his friends’ indignant questions and Draco’s terse replies, mumbled around cake and fingers and a cup of coffee that he’s appropriated from someone.

When they all drift reluctantly back to work, Harry hangs back with Draco in a small alcove near the main staircase.

“I finish at eight. Want to go and break some vases?”

“No.”

“No?”

Draco shakes his head, face expressionless. “I’m not angry.”

Harry looks at him, highly dubious. “I think you are,” he challenges.

“No, I’m... I don’t have a word that doesn’t make me sound like a fourteen-year-old Hufflepuff after her first break-up,” Draco admits. His smile is wry and his head is held defiantly high, but the sheen to his pale eyes makes Harry’s heart ache.

He reaches out and rests a hand on Draco’s hip, stepping closer in the secluded alcove and flattening his palm over the plane of his thigh, reaching for his hand. Draco leans into the touch for a moment and then pulls away, sighing.

“Don’t.”

Harry frowns, peering out into the deserted corridor. “Why not? There’s no one here.”

Draco laughs hollowly. “I know. But I might not let go.” Harry bites the inside of his mouth and nods. “Meet me out the front when you’ve finished?” Draco requests.

“Yeah, of course,” Harry says softly.

Exchanging long glances, they step out from the alcove and Harry treks back to the main wards. It’s going to be a long few hours.

**~*~**

“So, what do you want to do?” Harry turns out of the biting wind and waits with some trepidation for Draco’s answer. The grey eyes glitter dangerously in the pitch darkness of the winter night.

Draco leans back against the low railings just outside the main entrance. “I want to get very, very drunk.”

Harry lets out a small sound of surprise. Well, that’s that question answered, he supposes.

“Oh. I thought maybe you didn’t drink,” he admits, startled into honesty.

Shrugging lightly, Draco wraps his short black jacket more tightly around himself and smiles grimly. “Not very often. Only on special occasions.”

“Fair enough.” Harry exhales slowly, watching the wisps of his breath curl and dissipate into the night. “Well, I’ve got a nice bottle of Ogden’s Special at home, if his highness the top cupboard will let us have it... what do you say?”

Draco shakes his head. One corner of his mouth twists upward. He steps away from the railing.

“Tempting, but I have a much better idea.”

Harry steps gamely into Draco’s personal space, feeling warm breath and cold skin and fine hair tickling his nose before the yank of Apparation consumes him.

**~*~**

Twenty minutes and two drinks later, Harry shifts on his tall, brocade-covered bar stool and tries to get comfortable. He looks over his shoulder at the dim, smoky pub and lets another wave of disbelief wash over him. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but this was certainly not it. They’re a long way from Diagon Alley now, that’s for sure.

The slightly sticky, dark-varnished bar is L-shaped, and Harry and Draco’s stools are pulled up to the protruding corner, allowing them to face each other whilst still leaning on the surface for support.

“Tell me again, why we’re here?”

Draco rests his elbows on the bar. Frowns. “They are selling alcohol... we would like to buy alcohol... I would have thought it was a pretty simple concept,” he says, sipping from his glass and pulling a face.

“Don’t be facetious. I meant the fact that it’s a Muggle pub.” Harry drops his voice to avoid the attention of the barmaid and a collection of softly-spoken middle aged Muggle men seated at the small round tables around the edges of the room.

“I know.” Draco smirks. “Because I want to get wasted. If I get wasted, I’m likely to grope you under the table and I’d rather do that in a place where I’m unlikely to have my photograph taken.”

The slight flush that creeps up the back of Harry’s neck is entirely involuntary, and not for the first time, he is very aware not only of the unpredictable nature of Draco’s moods, but of the fact that he’s pretty much helpless to resist being dragged along with him.

“Well, you know me... groping is something I wholeheartedly support. What I want to know is when you exchanged that money.”

Harry waits, eyebrows raised in challenge. The look of pure concentration on Draco’s face as he counts out pounds and pence to pay for their drinks has so far been a sight to behold.

“I had to do something while I waited for you to finish cleaning up vomit and reattaching missing limbs and whatnot,” Draco points out. He picks up a heavy glass ashtray and examines it carefully.

“Thank you, that’s a remarkably accurate summary of the job I spent four years studying for.”

“It’s a talent,” Draco offers with a flash of an unexpected smile that turns Harry’s stomach over in a very pleasurable way. Just as quickly, he’s draining his glass, dropping his head into his hands and groaning softly. “Four weeks. Four fucking weeks. Five years and it comes down to four bastarding weeks. God.”

Harry sighs. It might be worth remembering that vodka only seems to exacerbate Draco’s quicksilver mood swings.

“... turf me out on my arse, the commensurate wankers.”

Draco doesn’t bother to keep his voice down, and the last part of his exclamation rips through the stagnant, beery air, attracting the attention of the thirty-something red-haired barmaid, who has until now been sitting quietly on a stool at the opposite end of the bar, feet tucked under the metal rung and eyes narrowed, puzzling over some strange Muggle number game in a folded-over newspaper in which none of the pictures move.

She looks up at Draco, startled.

“Er, sorry,” Harry explains. “He lost his job today.”

“Bummer,” she offers, mouth twisting sympathetically. After a moment, she abandons her newspaper and lifts a wooden hatch to slip back behind the bar.

Harry orders more drinks and turns to Draco, who is staring into his empty glass and mumbling to himself. When the drinks arrive, he leans over and works his hand into Draco’s closest pocket, frowning and chewing on his lip until his fingers close around several small, cold coins, which he withdraws and drops into the waiting hand of the barmaid. Draco shoots him a look that’s half scowl and half smile and the barmaid regards him carefully from under a heavy auburn fringe.

She slams the till closed with a satisfying clang-crash and then turns to retrieve something.

“Here.” She produces a slightly dusty, half-empty bottle and dumps two shot glasses on the bar in front of Harry. “On the house.”

“Thanks,” Harry manages eventually, surprised.

Draco looks up from his mumbling, eyes alight with interest, and the barmaid rewards him with a smile so warm that Harry immediately wants to throw an arm around Draco and insist, ‘Mine,’ but he resists, in the interests of good manners and staying of the good side of someone who appears to want to give them free drinks.

“Tequila cures all ills,” she explains, pouring out two generous measures. “Unfortunately, all I serve is best bitter with this lot.” She stares darkly at the dwindling regulars and then turns back to Harry with a glint in her pale eyes. “Although, if you’re going to drink tequila, you really ought to do it properly.”

“Properly?” Draco demands, hand sliding across the sticky bar to claim his small glass.

As he registers the barmaid’s look of astonishment, something flickers in the back of Harry’s mind, reminding him that he has done this before, just once, at a fellow student’s house party when he was still in Healer training.

He seems to remember that it involves a lot of licking, and as he glances across at Draco, who is sticking the tip of his tongue experimentally into his shot, he realises with a rush of heat that any activity involving both Draco and licking is an activity that has his vote.

“Properly,” Harry confirms. “Let’s do it right, shall we, er—?”

“Laurie,” she supplies, sounding amused. When she emerges from rummaging behind the bar, she places a salt shaker and a small dish of lemon slices reverently before Harry. Draco’s eyes are wide and his anger seems temporarily forgotten.

Laurie leans one hip on the section of bar nearest Harry and waits. Feeling curiously on display, Harry opts to ignore her and focus on Draco, who is now poking at the lemon slices with ill-concealed suspicion. Harry smiles quietly and picks up the salt.

“Draco.”

“Hmm?”

Harry inhales sharply, looks straight into slightly clouded grey eyes and licks a stripe of skin between his thumb and index finger. Draco’s eyes darken and he doesn’t look away.

Well, he thinks with some satisfaction, that got your attention, didn’t it?

“Salt,” Harry instructs, shaking it out onto the wet skin. Draco nods slowly.

Carefully, he picks up a lemon wedge, and then the small glass in his other hand, taking care not to spill it all over his trousers.

“Salt,” he repeats. “Then tequila. Then lemon. OK?” And without ever breaking eye contact, Harry sucks the salt-covered web of skin into his mouth, floods it with the hot burn of cheap tequila and then bites down into the sour, cleansing flesh of the lemon until his eyes are threatening to stream in protest. As he swallows the fiery liquid, he thinks it may be taking a layer of his throat away with it.

He slams the empty glass and the mangled lemon back onto the bar, smiling fuzzily. Knowing that the sudden head-spin is only a little bit to do with the tequila and a lot to do with being the focus of Draco’s rapt attention.

“Salt, tequila, lemon,” Draco intones, mantra-like, and copies Harry’s actions.

It’s only the same thing, but fuck, Draco makes it look good. Harry leans forward on the bar and drinks in the way he licks and then wraps his lips around his own skin, winces at the taste of the spirit and grimaces lightly as he sucks at the lemon.

Harry watches Draco’s throat work delicately around the swallow before his gaze is torn back up to surprised grey eyes. A twinge of arousal yanks at the base of his spine, but he smothers it in a smile and a signal to Laurie to refill the glasses.

He wants to get pissed, not have sex, Harry admonishes himself silently and reluctantly. Bad day, remember? Really fucking epically bad day.

“You look happier already,” Laurie remarks, sloshing more tequila expertly into the empty glasses.

Harry looks. There is a bit of a flush to the pale cheeks, he has to admit.

When she goes to replace the bottle, Draco holds a hand up. His group-silencing hand of power, Harry thinks blurrily, and then pulls up short, horrified. Until there are no more groups.

“And then what will you use it for?” he muses. Out loud, apparently—both Draco and Laurie fix him with very odd looks.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Harry. As per usual. Leave the bottle, will you?”

Laurie nods, looking as though she’s trying not to smile, and retreats back to her barstool and her puzzle.

Draco smiles grimly and holds his hand out. “Salt.”

**~*~**

By nine, the pub has almost completely emptied and Harry is feeling more relaxed than he has in quite some time, despite the events of the day. That’ll be the tequila, he supposes, flicking a glance at the rapidly sinking level of liquid in the bottle.

And perhaps, he reflects, that it’s actually a nice change to just sit and have drinks as himself; he has no idea why he’s never thought of coming to a Muggle pub before. Hermione probably comes to places like this with her family all the time, and Ron—especially recently—is showing small but definite signs of taking after his father in his fascination with all things Muggle.

Yet somehow, it’s Draco who’s brought him here. Harry exhales thoughtfully. All kinds of weird.

He shakes himself out of his silent contemplation at the sound of Draco’s voice and the soft brush of Draco’s fingers against his hand as he retrieves Harry’s empty glass. As far as he can tell, Draco is attempting to justify his decision to drink fourteen shots of tequila: “One for each bastard that voted against me.”

Harry blinks slowly and tries to find the words to explain why that’s probably not a good idea, but something else snags his attention. “Fourteen? How do you know none of them voted in your favour?”

Draco shoots him a withering look and pours. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course they didn’t.”

“You never know.” Harry accepts the refilled glass anyway. “Hmm. We will never know, I suppose.”

“Any further objections, Potter?” Draco lifts an eyebrow and licks his hand slowly. Entranced, Harry follows the movement of his tongue and promptly forgets what was so important anyway.

“Yeah. Don’t call me Potter.”

Draco smirks. “Salt, tequila, lemon. Down the hatch, Harry.”

“Down your hatch,” Harry mutters as he throws the shot back and shudders.

**~*~**

Salt, tequila, lemon.

“Will you keep up?” Draco slants an exasperated look at Harry and wraps cold fingers around his wrist.

Harry attempts to glare, but his face feels numb and Draco’s insignificant, careless touch still makes his pulse race. “Don’t be bossy.”

“Don’t be impertinent.”

Harry snorts childishly and barely resists the urge to stick out his tongue. “You’re not the boss of me.”

“I am paying, though,” Draco points out, not releasing his wrist, the thumb stroking small circles over his pulse point completely undermining his petulant tone.

“Doesn’t make you the King of Everything, you know.” Harry swallows the salty, sour, burning mouthful anyway.

Draco smiles. “King of Everything. What a fantastic job.”

Harry nods. “Well paid, too. Probably.”

Releasing his hand, Draco pushes his hair from his eyes and folds his arms on the bar. “Probably comes with a lot of responsibility, though,” he sighs.

Harry wants to know why Draco can say words like responsibility when he’s drunk with no stumbling whatsoever. It doesn’t seem altogether fair.

**~*~**

Salt, tequila, lemon.

Harry wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and winces. Everything inside his mouth is sore. He doesn’t suppose that amount of salt and acid and alcohol is conducive to good oral health, but still. He sets down his glass and holds onto the bar, running his tongue carefully and experimentally along the roof of his mouth.

“What’s the matter?” Draco asks, eyes suddenly clouded with concern. Something twinges low down in Harry’s stomach.

“My mouth hurts.”

“Let’s have a look.”

“You want to look in my mouth?”

“Yes. Open wide.”

Harry narrows his eyes distrustfully. “If I open my mouth, I think you’ll put something in it.”

Draco smirks and heat pools in Harry’s belly as he realises what he’s said and exactly what Draco is thinking.

“Not here, I won’t,” he murmurs suggestively. And then he’s touching Harry’s jaw with surprising gentleness and brushing his thumb over Harry’s bottom lip. Catching his breath, Harry opens his mouth obediently and sticks his tongue out.

Draco’s eyes are so intent as he gazes mock-seriously at Harry’s tongue that he can’t resist flicking it out and licking Draco’s hand. It tastes, oddly enough, of salt and lemon. The grey eyes darken and Draco makes a soft sound of surprise in his throat.

“I think you’ll live to lick again,” he assesses, eyes locking with Harry’s and sending a shiver of desire through him.

Immediately to their left, a sound startles Harry and he turns to see Laurie filling a pint glass and looking entertained, and a grizzled Muggle man with his mouth hanging slightly open.

Draco draws back and reaches for the bottle again. Harry covers his heated face with his hands and laughs.

**~*~**

Salt, tequila, lemon.

Both glasses hit the bar at the same time and Harry leans closer so that his outstretched forearm rests against Draco’s on the varnished surface. They’re definitely going down easier now, and he’s not sure if that’s a good sign, but no matter.

Harry watches through squinted eyes as Draco tears the remaining flesh away from his lemon wedge with straight white teeth. He has no idea how he can do that, but he seems to be enjoying it. Mouth watering in sympathy, Harry opts to look away until Draco’s finished.

“My mother’s going to be delighted.”

Used to the non-sequiturs by now, Harry goes with this one. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. She never understood why I wanted to work. After my year was up, she expected me to... well, act like a Malfoy, I think. Swan around the Manor and sit on pointless committees and go to lunch and things.” Draco rolls his eyes and plays with the empty lemon rind.

“Still, wasn’t she proud of you?” Harry demands, indignant. “Won’t she be sad that you’re... sad?”

Draco brings his feet up to rest on the top rung of Harry’s bar stool. Leans forward, elbows on his knees.

“Yes. She’s not a heartless bitch, you know. She’s my mum. But, what I’m saying is, she’ll be relieved that I have an opportunity to find something more fitting to do with my life.”

Harry snorts. He takes Draco’s nearest hand and pulls it onto his knee, examining the lines on his palm very carefully. “What like?”

“I don’t know. King of Everything was sounding pretty good, but I think you have to marry into that kind of position.”

“Please don’t do that,” Harry says gravely, looking up from Draco’s hand to his eyes.

Draco nods, equally grave. “I shan’t.” His fingers curl around Harry’s for a moment before relaxing again.

“How about...” Harry thinks. Looks around for Laurie, but she’s at a safe distance at the other end of the bar, absorbed in a magazine. “You could be a potion... ist.”

Draco makes a face. “A Potions Master? I think not. It’s a hobby, but I wouldn’t like to do that all the time. It’s a very isolated career, apart from anything else.”

“Oh,” says Harry thoughtfully. “And there’s the slime aspect, I suppose.”

“Slime?” Clouded grey eyes meet his in confusion.

“Grease,” he amends, lifting his free hand and dragging his fingers through his hair illustratively. “Blergh.”

Draco grins, understanding. “Poor Severus. Anyway, don’t speak ill of the dead.”

“OK.” Harry nods and returns to his study of Draco’s hand. “Write a book,” he suggests.

“Haven’t the patience.”

“Public speaking.”

“Who would hire me?”

Harry sighs, releases Draco and drops his head onto folded arms on the bar. “High class escort?”

Draco flicks a lemon pip that hits him squarely on the nose.

“Shall I take that as a no?”

**~*~**

Salt, tequila, lemon.

This time, when his glass is empty, Draco grimaces and mutters something about ‘backinaminute’. Harry nods until it makes his head spin most unpleasantly, and he soon desists.

He watches Draco cross the patterned carpet, smiling fuzzily, a novel feeling of warmth and protectiveness humming in his veins. When he’s out of sight, Harry leans on the bar and listens to the clink of bottles and Laurie’s soft tuneless voice as she crouches in front of the fridges and sings to herself.

“There is a house... in New Orleans...”

“... they call the Rising Sun,” Harry supplies, equally tunelessly. Laurie has her back to him but her shoulders shake silently as she continues.

Harry wishes he could sing. He supposes he has other talents. Hopefully.

When Draco returns from the bathroom, he’s weaving slightly and yet still looks remarkably poised. Harry thinks he might hate him, if he didn’t, er, really like him a lot. Draco frowns and looks around at the empty pub.

“Lauren, this place is dead.”

“Laurie,” she corrects, looking up briefly from her stock-take. “Of course it is. It’s Wednesday night. This is an old-man pub. The regulars all slope off about ten, home to their nagging wives and their cups of hot cocoa.”

Draco sits back down on his stool, aristocratic features arranged in an expression of horror.

“I’m never getting old,” he shudders.

“I’m never getting married,” Harry adds.

“Who says romance is dead,” Laurie mutters with a small smile.

**~*~**

Salt, tequila, lemon.

Harry decides that someone’s definitely moved the bar further away from him since the last shot, because it’s only Draco’s intervention that stops him slamming his glass down into thin air. As it is, he stares down at the lemon wedge on the swirly carpet and sighs.

He’s not sure any more how many they’ve had, but he doesn’t think it’s fourteen. But Draco’s hand is resting on his thigh under the bar and Draco’s eyes are huge and slate-grey when he looks up and everything’s warm and slow and lovely.

“Have we had fourteen yet?” Harry wonders out loud.

Draco blinks. “You know, I have no idea.” He looks suddenly mournful. “I forgot to count. Bugger.”

Secretly, Harry’s thrilled at the little lapse in control. Draco’s so beautiful when he’s worried. “Doesn’t matter. S’long as you’re drunk enough to tell me all your secrets.” He grins.

Draco looks alarmed for a split second, and then his eyes soften. He rests his chin in his hand and gazes at Harry like he’s trying to see right inside him.

“OK. Do you want to know what my sad little dream is?”

“Of course.”

“You have to promise not to laugh—OK. I’ve had it in my head for years but... we’ve bags of space at the Manor, space we’re not using for anything. I’d use it to build a long-stay programme. Like Stage Two, only I wouldn’t be trying to rush them through everything in a month; it could be three months or six months or... whatever, really. Can you imagine... in a setting like that, away from everything? A new programme, like the old one but better. No board, no restrictions, just...” Draco trails off, eyes bright with passion.

Harry stares at him, head clearing fractionally as Draco’s words and wistful enthusiasm stir his blood.

“That’s a fucking marvellous idea,” he breathes, and Draco’s surprised smile jolts his heart. “Why did you never tell me any of this before?”

“I wasn’t drunk before.”

Harry rolls his eyes and leans closer, huffing tequila breath into Draco’s face. The hand on his thigh slides reflexively upwards. “Obviously. So what’s stopping you?”

“Come on, Harry,” Draco protests. “It’s a pipe dream. The day I open a treatment centre is the day Augustus sodding Tremellen comes to work in drag.”

Snorting, Harry screws up his restraint and leans in the last two inches to kiss the corner of Draco’s mouth. “That’s disgusting. You could do it. I’ll help.”

“Yeah, you and whose bankroll?”

Harry frowns and draws back. Draco is an argumentative drunk, apparently. And there are no grounds for that to be surprising. “Got money.” He waves a negligent hand in the air, wondering why it feels heavier than it should do. Focus. “Got money, haven’t we?”

“It’s not a bottomless pit, though. I haven’t seen your vault, granted, but I’d say yours isn’t, either.”

“Must you complicrate... must you make everything difficult?” Harry rubs his face wearily. “Let me think.” His thoughts are squelchy and painfully slow, but he persists, sealing one eye shut and biting his lip pensively. “I know. You can sell your detox potions back to the hospital.”

“The ones that haven’t yet been trialed and approved, those potions?” Draco quirks a sceptical eyebrow and reaches for the almost-empty tequila bottle.

Yet, exactly. I bet that’d cover your overheads, y’know.”

“My what?”

Harry holds out his glass and frowns, uncertain. “Overheads? I think that’s the word. Y’know, your costs and stuff. Food. Equipment. Staff.” He grins unsteadily. “Ooh, staff... you could employ your own staff team. You’d be the boss.”

“I’m always the boss,” Draco says drily.

Harry tries to shove him but it ends up like more of a stroke. Draco grins lopsidedly.

“Draco, seriously, I think you should...” Harry’s voice deserts him when Draco grabs his hand and licks a hot, wet stripe between his thumb and forefinger with the flat of his tongue.

He watches the ritual, transfixed, as Draco abuses his hand. Salt. Tequila. Lemon. Teeth pull gently at the delicate web of skin, making his cock twitch needily in response. Draco’s insistence on eye contact as he leans close and bites into the lemon wedge that Harry’s only just managing to hold onto, heart pounding and cold juice dripping over his palm, ensures Harry forgets to breathe.

Draco pulls back, shiny-wet-lipped and hazy, the soft light overhead making his hair glow golden. Harry abandons the fruit and his own drink, he wants Draco’s mouth and he wants it now.

“Come here.” Harry grabs the arm that still has a hand dangerously close to his crotch and pulls, hard. Draco stumbles to his feet and leans into Harry, standing in the small space between his propped-up legs, forcing Harry to look up. The sudden proximity and intense grey gaze shuts Harry’s mind down to words of one syllable only. Want. Now. Mine. Please. “Kiss me.”

“Yes,” Draco whispers, and then his lips are brushing Harry’s, palms heavy on Harry’s thighs as he leans, deepening the kiss, and it’s wet-messy-hungry-brilliant; Harry tips his head back and gives himself over to pure sensation, noting Draco’s soft whimper with satisfaction and reaching up to drag him closer. The sharp citrus taste is unsurprising, but there’s an underlying familiarity that makes his head spin. More so.

The creak of Laurie’s stool several feet behind Harry makes them both jump. Harry untangles his fingers from Draco’s hair and allows the dimly-lit pub to swim back into semi-focus around him.

“Don’t stop on my account,” she says, sliding off her stool and ducking back behind the bar.

Draco pales and steps back out of Harry’s personal space, feeling blindly behind himself for his own stool. Harry watches almost in slow motion as he wraps his fingers around the frayed edges of the seat, goes to sit, misjudges the distance horribly and crashes to the floor on his arse.

It’s thickly carpeted, and he’s obviously intoxicated enough for it not to hurt, but his indignant expression is too much for Harry. Laughing, he stares down at the dishevelled blond.

“I’m not the only one who can fall over, Draco Malfoy,” he points out, grinning.

“I rather think it was your fault,” Draco mutters, taking the hand Harry eventually holds out and hauling himself to his feet with as much dignity as he can muster.

Laurie glances up from behind the bar. “Is that your name? Draco Malfoy? That’s a brilliant name.” She smiles and turns away.

Draco smiles faintly, rearranging himself on his stool. “See, Harry... this is what I like about Muggles.”

“That and their office supplies,” Harry points out, picking up and downing his forgotten shot.

**~*~**

“I’m cold.” Draco scowls. “It has no business being this cold.”

“It’s almost December,” Harry points out, shifting closer on the front steps of the pub and resting his head on Draco’s shoulder.

It’s two minutes after closing time, and they have been unceremoniously shoved out into the night by Laurie, who had been pleased but unmoved by Draco’s extravagant tipping. The shockingly fresh wind takes the edge off Harry’s warm glow, but it’s still an effort to remain completely upright.

“Yes, well. I don’t want to go home yet.”

Harry sighs and looks up at Draco from a strange angle. “Not even home to bed?” he asks hopefully. “And anyway, nowhere’s open now. Let’s just start walking.”

Walking quickly = staying warm + getting Draco into bed with his clothes off, Harry calculates.

“I don’t want to walk,” Draco pouts, but he starts striding down the deserted street anyway.

“Too drunk to Apparate.” Harry looks around as he catches up to fall into step beside Draco. He thinks he has a vague idea of where they are, and they’re not actually a million miles away from Grimmauld Place. Which is good, because he doesn’t relish the idea of trying to get Draco into a Muggle taxi.

“Speak for yourself.” Draco turns to look at him and stumbles slightly.

Harry says nothing, just concentrates hard on continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The streetlights are harshly orange against the blank canvas of Draco’s hair and strange, long shadows slide over his pale skin as they walk. It isn’t long before they’re crossing into the Wizarding Quarter and a smart residential area. There are no lights here other than the muted glows that issue from behind drawn curtains.

Draco has been silent for some time, and Harry jumps when he suddenly says: “Do you really think I could do it?”

Harry frowns. “What?”

“Open my own treatment centre.” Draco stops short and swings round to walk backwards, facing Harry. His eyes are bright and enquiring in the darkness, filled with an intensity borne of intoxication.

“Yeah, I really do. You can do anything you want,” he says grandly.

Draco laughs, face flushed and collar turned up against the wind. “Were that true. But, oh, can you imagine?”

“I can.” Harry nods and reaches out to grip a cold hand. “Do it. I think you’d be brilliant.”

“I think you’re insane,” says Draco, obviously pleased.

I think I am a bit insane for you, actually, Harry thinks, and seconds later finds himself turned and pressed against someone’s hedge with Draco’s cold hands on his face. He has half a second to refocus his fuzzy brain before he’s being kissed fiercely, his gasp of surprise a tacit invitation for Draco to ravage his mouth with an intensity that makes him feel weak.

He’s never been with anyone who wanted him like this, who would stop in the street and kiss him like they were fucking him, just because they wanted to. It’s late and there’s no one around, but the frisson of danger sparks a thrill in the pit of his stomach that makes him groan and kiss back harder, swiping his tongue against Draco’s and pulling his hips closer, frozen fingers in belt loops and the hedge prickling and cracking ominously against his back.

When they pull apart, cold noses rubbing together, Draco kisses the corner of his mouth and sighs.

“What was that for?” Harry asks, not releasing him despite his growing concern for the integrity of the hedge.

“Do I need a reason?”

Harry grins, he suspects, like an idiot. “No. Come on, let’s keep moving.”

**~*~**

Harry’s bedroom is wonderfully, fantastically warm, and he’s filled with a comforting sense of sleepy well-being as they stumble onto the bed and slowly remove each other’s clothes, mumbling words and trading kisses and fumbling at buttons and zips.

“Too many buttons,” Draco mutters, pulling at Harry’s trousers.

“There’s only one button.” Harry looks down, propping himself up on one elbow. “Isn’t there?”

“I can see two.” Draco squints and pulls hard. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

Harry laughs and throws an arm over his eyes, flopping back onto the pillows.

“You’re not helping... aha!”

As his trousers and boxers are removed in one surprisingly swift motion, Harry summons the last of his energy. He surges upward, pulls off Draco’s sweater and drags him under the covers, wrapping around him, revelling in the press of warm, smooth skin but feeling altogether too hazy and comfortable to do anything about it.

It’s been a long day, after all.

He brushes Draco’s hair out of his eyes and kisses him lazily. It’s just a long, slow tangle of tongues that’s leading nowhere, and it feels all the better for that fact. They’re just here, together, and despite the ever-present desire, neither of them is pushing for anything more right now.

“It’s going to be alright, you know.”

“Hmm,” says Draco, closing his eyes and resting his head on Harry’s chest.

Eyes heavy, Harry picks up the arm that Draco has flung over him and presses his mouth against it. He can smell the familiar clean scent even through the stench of cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol that clings to his nostrils and it soothes him.

Absently, he drops a kiss over the marked skin and then releases Draco’s arm, letting his eyes fall closed. Draco tenses momentarily against him and then shifts closer in the darkness.

They sleep.

**~*~**

A low groan of disgust pulls Harry from his deep sleep and he prises his eyes open. Too late, he realises his mistake; the light is far too bright and his mouth is arid, sore and foul-tasting. Turning his head slowly toward the sound, Harry is greeted with the sight of Draco hiding his head beneath a pillow, naked back exposed by sheets that have slipped down indecently low.

“Draco?” he rasps, already trying to remember if he has any Hangover Potion left in the bathroom.

“What. Did. You. Let. Me. Do?”

“This isn’t my fault, Draco.” Harry presses his cheek into a deliciously cool patch of pillow. The memories of the previous night rush in to fill the woolly gap between his ears. “Leave the bottle, you said. Fourteen shots, you said.” Harry grimaces and pulls ineffectually at Draco’s pillow. It’s a little disconcerting trying to carry on a conversation with a piece of soft furnishing. “Are you seeing a pattern here?”

“This is exactly why I don’t drink very often,” Draco whimpers, voice muffled by the fabric.

“Yeah, special occasions, you told me.” As soon as the words are out, Harry’s gut twists as the lead-up to the drinking session settles in around him, and his expression softens. Reaching out, he strokes the flat of his hand down over Draco’s spine, settling it in the small of his back. He feels like shit but he suspects that Draco feels worse, for reasons that have nothing to do with alcohol consumption. “Would you look at me?” he requests gently.

“Please kill me,” Draco replies, but he allows Harry to tug the pillow away and lifts his head reluctantly.

His eyes are morning-round and puffy, skin verging on grey, hair flattened on one side and sticking up everywhere on the other. He regards Harry with a combination of defensiveness and vulnerability that, despite the troll-wrestling going on in his head, makes Harry want to do very dirty things to him.

“Good morning.” Harry smiles and shuffles closer, the skin contact delivering a ripple of lazy interest to his groin.

“Is it?” Draco scowls lightly. Harry loves that scowl, especially since he discovered that coffee isn’t the only way to banish it. In spite of his irritation, Draco submits to Harry’s caresses and closes his eyes.

They soon fly open again at the series of sharp taps against the window pane. Harry sighs and slides a foot up Draco’s warm calf under the sheets.

“It’ll just be the paper. I had to start getting my own after I couldn’t steal yours every day any more,” he confides. Draco lifts an eyebrow and then grimaces as though the small action has caused him pain. “Can you open the window? You’re closer.”

“How about no.”

“Please?”

Draco blinks slowly. “I can’t move.”

Harry kisses his dry lips thoughtfully, morning breath and all. Tries a different tack. “If you open the window, I’ll find you some Hangover Potion.”

Draco moves. Fast.

Harry sits on the edge of the bed and watches him stand naked at the window, trying not to smile.

So, you can move. Shocking. He wanders into the bathroom and rummages through the cupboards, wincing as he catches sight of himself in the bathroom mirror. Stubble, bloodshot eyes and a definite sickly tint to his skin. Lovely.

“Good grief,” says the mirror. “You look terrible. Rough night? And do put some clothes on!”

Harry retrieves the bottle and closes the cabinet. “Your honesty is appreciated as always.” In a fit of pique, he sticks his tongue out at the mirror and makes sure it gets a good view of his bare arse as he exits the bathroom. The high-pitched shriek of horror tells him all he needs to know.

“Found it,” he calls, striding back into the bedroom and brandishing the glass bottle.

He stops short at the sight that greets him. Now literally as white as his sheets, Draco is sitting on the edge of the bed, eyes wide, bottom lip caught in his teeth, fingers splayed across the front page of the Prophet. The window is open but Harry barely notices the cold air that lifts the fringe from his forehead.

“What’s the matter?”

Draco raises his head slowly and the look in his eyes makes Harry’s stomach turn over. His fingers tighten around the neck of the bottle.

“You should probably read this,” Draco says stiffly. He pushes the paper to the edge of the bed and Harry swallows hard, dropping to the floor in a crouch and resting his elbows on the bed.

Anything written by Prophet reporters that can make Draco look like that can’t be good. Harry feels sick, wondering who’s been killed... or maimed... or arrested... or—

“Fucking hell.”

“Exactly,” Draco says miserably.

Harry doesn’t get time to appreciate the tide of relief that accompanies the knowledge that no one he loves has been hurt, because he’s confronted by a large, disturbingly clear photograph of himself and Draco, clinging to each other and kissing like it’s going out of fashion, up against someone’s garden hedge.

He stares, open-mouthed, as his photo-self arches shamelessly into Draco and drags him closer, hands wrapped possessively around slim hips, while photo-Draco grips his hair and kisses him as though neither of them need to breathe. Somewhere in the midst of his shock is a weird, inappropriate shiver of arousal and approval at the raw, undiluted passion on display between them.

On display, he swiftly reminds himself, to the entire fucking Wizarding world, now. Oh, god.

‘Boy Who Lived Gay for Longtime Enemy?’ Oh, that’s just...” Harry trails off, words escaping him. He rakes a hand through his hair and tears his eyes away from the constantly looping photograph to look at Draco.

Draco isn’t looking at him, though. He’s leaning forward, elbows on his knees, face buried in his hands. He mutters something unintelligible, from which Harry is only able to extract the words ‘fuck’, ‘Prophet’ and ‘disaster’.

“Who the hell took... I mean, I know they follow me around, but it was a weeknight... nearly midnight... in a sodding residential area!” Harry shakes his head in disbelief. He takes a breath, trying to recover at least some degree of coherency. Distracted, he gulps from the potion bottle and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Offers it to Draco, who takes it without looking at him.

As his headache fades away, Harry forces himself to examine the article more thoroughly. Predictably, it’s the top story, and though he tries to tell himself it’s just a slow news day, he knows that Harry Potter kissing Draco Malfoy would be headline news even if a new war had broken out that very same day.

It’s short—he supposes the picture speaks for itself—and typically luridly written. “Have you actually read this?” he demands, not looking up. “‘Snap – the sound of a million hearts breaking as witches across Britain find out their hero is GAY and consorting with none other than Ex-Death Eater Draco Malfoy.’ Oh, for crying out loud.” Harry sighs heavily and pushes the paper away.

Draco looks through his fingers, grey eyes flashing. “Notice that we’re back to ‘Ex-Death Eater’ now they’ve realised I’m shagging their golden boy,” he says bitterly.

“They’re idiots, Draco, you know that. You’ve always known that. They just go with whichever angle suits them best at the time.”

“Whichever angle sells them more papers, more specifically,” Draco mutters.

Harry shrugs mutely. It’s true. He recalls Draco’s surprised pleasure over the positive reporting following the Chromia X scandal, and then tries not to recall it when it throws Draco’s current furious eyes and defensive posture into painfully sharp relief.

Pensively, he pulls the paper back to the edge of the bed and stares at it. OK, so he’d never planned to be outed quite like this, by surprise and by this scurrilous rag, but then again, he’d never really planned it at all. Just figured that when they were both ready, they’d think of some way to let the world know they were together. He’s never tried to kid himself that it wouldn’t be a big deal to a lot of people, either, or that the response of a world that considered him their personal property would be entirely favourable.

So here it is, in black and white. Well, black and white and explicit, moving colour. And as the initial shock fades away, Harry is left only with mild embarrassment and a warm, prickly sense of relief. He’s not ashamed, after all, and is prepared to fiercely defend his relationship to anyone who derides it.

He can’t say the same for Draco, who still has his head in his hands, and that fact is a small, hard lump of something cold between his ribs.

“Well... on the plus side, we look pretty good,” Harry ventures, pulling himself up to sit on the bed beside Draco.

The remark gets his attention and he looks up sharply, incredulous. “Is that all you’ve got to say? Aren’t you furious?”

Harry stretches his bare legs out in front of him, the cold breeze from the window making his hairs stand on end. “Well... I’m not exactly happy with what they’re saying about you, but as for the whole... outing thing?” He pauses, glancing up at Draco. “No. It’s not as if we were ever going to take out an article in the society pages, is it? Now everyone knows. Maybe it’s easier.”

Grey eyes narrow sharply and an agitated hand slides through messy blond hair. “I don’t understand you. I don’t understand how this is coming from someone who uses Polyjuice on nights out with his two lifelong friends to avoid getting his picture taken, and then they publish this, and it’s like you don’t care!”

Harry frowns and shifts closer on the bed. “I don’t mind them taking my picture, it’s...”

“That’s not true.”

“OK, fine, I don’t like it much. But I’ve had to make my peace with it... Draco, they take my picture all the time. I’m in here at least once a week,” Harry points out, poking at the Prophet with a dismissive finger. “Walking to work, getting coffee, standing outside the hospital... they don’t wait for a Friday night to do it. That’s not why we do the Polyjuice thing... it’s just so we can have a night out without people interrupting us every five minutes, that’s all.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

Harry rests his hand on Draco’s thigh, but he looks away. “I’m not ashamed if people know we’re together,” he says softly, swallowing down a sudden tightness in his throat. “I’m a bit embarrassed that it’s quite so... um, personal, but I’m not... really, I want... it’s...”

Harry opts to shut up, wait for a response, and hope he gets one. Eventually. Draco’s silence is both uncharacteristic and worrying. He prefers a ranting Draco, at least he knows how to handle that.

“In hindsight, the society pages might’ve been easier.” Draco turns to him, eyes uncertain, lips compressed into a hard, determined line. He sighs resignedly at Harry’s small smile and presses his warm mouth against Harry’s bare shoulder.

The tiny surrender relaxes Harry’s tense muscles and he exhales slowly. “Oh well.”

“Everyone’s going to hate me,” Draco mumbles against his skin. “More so than before, I mean.”

“No, they won’t, and anyway—” Whatever Harry had planned to say next flies out of his head when he catches sight of a familiar owl landing on the windowsill clutching a bright red envelope.

Oh, fuck.

Someone in the Weasley household has sent him a Howler, and he has a fairly good idea which one.

“I think I’m going to just take this in another room,” Harry mutters, leaping up and grabbing the smoking envelope and dashing from the room, leaving a perplexed Draco behind him.

He knows from bitter experience that it will only be worse if he waits, but Harry has the feeling that he doesn’t want Draco to hear this. As he races through the first floor, trying to get as far from the bedroom as possible, he’s suddenly very aware of his nakedness and the red-hot envelope in his hand.

Finally, reaching a spare bedroom, he stops and tears the envelope open, shrinking back against the wall as the amplified voice of a very unhappy Molly Weasley rents the air.

“Harry James Potter! Imagine my shock when I sat down to breakfast only to see you, splashed across the front page of the Prophet, committing acts of public indecency with that... that horrible Malfoy boy! Have you completely lost your mind? Have you taken leave of your senses?! If you can’t see that good-for-nothing is taking you for a ride, then, oh, wait ‘til I see you, young man. I’ve never...”

Harry screws his eyes shut and waits for the tirade to come to an end. Molly is a deeply frightening woman when provoked, and it appears that this unexpected discovery has sent her into a pseudo-maternal rage.

When the letter eventually ceases its shrieking and bursts into flames, Harry opens his eyes. Draco is watching him from the doorway, wrapped in a sheet, eyes surprisingly calm.

“Mother Weasley doesn’t care much for me, does she?”

Harry laughs hollowly. “That’s one way to put it.”

Draco snorts. “Come back to bed.” He lets the sheet slip down to expose one pale hipbone and Harry peels himself away from the cold wall hurriedly.

“I don’t start until ten-thirty today, what’s your excuse?”

“I’m not late yet.” Draco looks over his shoulder as Harry follows him along the carpeted hallway. “And I’m traumatized.”

Harry smiles to himself. The sarcasm is a good sign. He can worry about Molly and her rage later on.

As they step back into the bedroom, though, it soon becomes clear that it’s not only Molly’s rage that he has to contend with. There, in the centre of the bedspread, lie five envelopes. One is white and innocuous-looking, but the other four are scarlet and smoking ominously.

Harry rubs his face, heart sinking. So it begins, he thinks morosely.

“Backlash,” he mutters, locating and pulling on his discarded boxers. The way this morning is going, he might as well give up any hope of having a good reason to be naked.

He and Draco stand shoulder to shoulder, staring at the letters. The owls have wisely buggered off before the shouting starts, and Harry doesn’t blame them.

“Let’s open them all at once and get it over with,” Draco suggests.

“Good idea.”

Grabbing two each, they rip them open and then stand back, clamping hands over their ears. Draco backs against the wall to keep his sheet in place around his hips, and Harry thinks he might find the sudden misplaced modesty amusing if he weren’t listening to four clashing voices yelling slurs about Draco’s intentions and his own idiocy and several rousing rounds of, ‘What are you thinking?!’

Ears ringing in the silence, Harry picks up the non-threatening letter and Draco flops back onto the bed, hands over his eyes.

“Well, that was a treat. Who knew I was such an unmitigated bastard?”

Harry sits down next to him and reads, running an absent-minded hand down Draco’s arm.

Harry,

Seen the Prophet. Are you alright?

Any news on the appeal?

Hermione.

PS Did you actually read the article? It’s horribly written. They have a cheek calling that journalism if you ask me.


Having read enough of it to agree with her, Harry almost cracks a smile, which is followed immediately by a swipe of guilt that he’d been so caught up in Draco’s misery yesterday that he’d completely forgotten to owl Hermione with the outcome of the hearing.

Suddenly feeling overwhelmed, Harry drops the letter and stretches out beside Draco on the bed. He doesn’t want to walk out into a community that’s disappointed in him and furious at Draco. The temptation to pull up the covers and hide from the world is tremendous, and he’s not alone in the feeling.

Draco sighs and pulls the pillow back over his head. “Oh, god... I’m not going. Fuck it.”

“I know... but we have to.”

“No. It’ll be horrible.”

Harry hesitates, the hard knot tightening inside his ribcage once more. “You’re not... you’re not ashamed of me, are you?” he asks, not sure if he wants to hear the answer.

After several seconds of tense silence, the pillow is yanked down far enough for fierce grey eyes to bore into Harry’s. Draco glares incredulously for a good while and then pulls the pillow back over his head.

“Well, are you?” Harry asks the pillow. It grunts. “Draco?”

“No.” Draco reveals himself, slightly flushed and eyes burning. His parted lips are an invitation, and Harry leans down over him until their faces are inches apart. “And listen, because I’m only saying this once. Despite the fact that the entire Wizarding world is now out for my blood, I am not ashamed of you. You idiot,” he adds.

Harry feels warm all over and can’t resist the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“OK. Message received.” He kisses Draco firmly, fingers dragging on the points of white-blond stubble.

“I’m still not going.”

“Yes, you are.”

Draco sighs dramatically. “You’re probably right.”

Grinning and wishing he could somehow record Draco saying ‘You’re right’ for posterity, Harry wisely says nothing and instead grabs his shoulders and rolls him into the middle of the bed, crumpling the forgotten Daily Prophet beneath them.

**~*~**

“I don’t see why I couldn’t have Apparated straight up to the fifth floor,” Draco grouses, arms folded and eyes narrowed.

They turn the last corner and approach the front entrance of the hospital. Harry straightens his green robes and shoots him a look.

“You could have. I’m not forcing you. I just happen to know from experience that this sort of thing doesn’t just go away if you hide from it, and the sooner everyone sees us standing next to each other and acting like we’re not bothered what they think, the sooner someone else will be top of the gossip list,” Harry finishes, certain that they’ve already had this argument once, but no matter.

“It worries me when you’re able to be this persuasive,” Draco says. “With your clothes on.”

“Say that in front of them, and we’ll be gossip fodder for the next month,” Harry points out with a small smile.

“Fantastic.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Harry exchanges one last fortifying glance with his now immaculately dressed, fully sober and partially caffeinated lover, and reaches for the door handle.

Nothing’s going to happen, he tells himself over and over. Nothing, nothing, nothing. This a hospital. The people who work here are Healers and nurses; they have better things to worry about than my sex life. Yes they do.

Apparently, they don’t. He and Draco are barely five paces inside the foyer when the first staff member catches sight of them, and then Harry actually feels the ripple travel through the air as others look up, stopping in their tracks, turning at the sudden hush or prodded into attention by their colleagues.

Draco’s poker-face is impressive, but nonetheless, his tension is so acute that Harry can almost smell it. Still, they keep walking; they only have to make it to the spiral staircase and then they can part ways without looking like either one of them is hiding or panicking. Just a few more steps.

Harry tries not to decipher the expressions of his co-workers, but a cursory glance reveals a rough fifty-fifty split between intrigued-horror and intrigued-delight, and that’s better than he expected. Every single person is staring, though, and Harry wonders if they’re all staunch Daily Prophet readers, or if gossip just travels fast inside a hospital. He suspects the latter.

At the bottom of the staircase, Harry pauses, unsure what to do next. Draco turns on the first step and looks at him, long fingers curling tightly over the metal hand rail in his indecision. When Harry takes a step closer, panic floods his features, and Harry wonders incredulously if Draco actually thinks he’s planning on putting on a repeat performance right here in the stairwell for the assembled masses.

“Don’t panic,” he says, dropping his voice to a barely audible level.

“I never panic,” Draco snaps automatically.

Harry smiles unreservedly. “I’ll come up later, OK?”

Draco pauses, eyes flicking to the suddenly-busy corridor and then back to Harry. “I’ll try to cope until then.”

With a brief, surprising flash of teeth, he takes off up the stairs, leaving Harry staring after him.

Harry adjusts his glasses, scratches through his hair and turns, heading for General Ward One and studiously ignoring the hungry glances in the way that only those truly accustomed to being gawped at can.

Cecile is leaning on the nurses’ station, clutching a red pencil and scribbling on a patient chart. Relieved, Harry lets out a huge breath and makes his way over to her side.

“Finally, a sane person.” Harry frowns. Chews on a thumbnail. Reconsiders. “By comparison, I mean.”

“Well, if it isn’t Mr Front Page,” she teases without looking up. “Still want to be friends, now you’re a big gay celebrity?”

Harry cringes. “I knew I could rely on you to be sympathetic, Cecile.”

She looks up finally, grinning. “Drunk?” she enquires.

“Yep.”

“Thought so. It’s a nice picture,” she adds, somewhat lasciviously. Harry fights down a blush.

“Thanks.” Forcing a nonchalant smile, he concentrates hard, holding out a hand and focusing all of his frustration into a wandless hex that makes Cecile’s pencil explode. She yelps gratifyingly, and glares.

“Want to hear something that’ll really improve your day?” Cecile sucks her splinter-ridden finger.

“Always.”

“Do you remember Mr Crawley? He was readmitted about an hour ago. He apparently got an eyeful of the Prophet in the waiting room, and now he’s demanding to be seen by you. Wouldn’t even let me examine him,” Cecile adds with obvious relish.

“Merlin help me.” Harry groans and looks at the floor.

“I doubt that.” Cecile Summons the relevant chart into an outstretched hand and passes it over. “Enjoy.”

Harry pulls a face at her and scans the chart, hoping he has no reason to experience the old man’s incarceration kink for himself. Poor Eloise, he thinks, shuddering lightly at the memory. When he looks up, a passing pair of unfamiliar nurses look up at him and then fall into a whispered conversation that sends a spike of irritation through his veins. He’s suddenly all the more grateful that he has Cecile—and, he suspects, Eloise and Terry—to treat him exactly the same as before.

Harry backs away across the corridor, chart clutched to his chest. Cecile raises an eyebrow and he smiles at her.

“I feel a flapjack landslide coming on.”

**~*~**

The day passes quickly and without incident, if Harry doesn’t count the way that staff and patients alike refuse to stop staring at him.

It’s disconcerting at best and maddening at worst. Halfway through the morning, Harry treats an attractive, mature blonde witch who glares at him throughout her examination, and Harry’s thoughts are drawn quite naturally to Narcissa Malfoy. For all her faults, Harry is, today, more than grateful that she refuses to read the newspapers. A livid pureblood matriarch is the last thing either of them need to deal with right now.

Mr Crawley is astonishingly co-operative, so much so that Harry is a little bit disturbed. In the end, though, he weighs the creepy compliance and greasy smiles against the fact that there’s been no need to invoke restraints of any kind, and decides that in this case, he’ll take the small victories where they come.

Even if they do mean trying not to think about the fact that his wrinkly patient is most likely imagining him in bed with Draco.

His late start means that he misses morning rounds and, with a combination of Eloise’s hissed warnings and a bit of graceless ducking into wards and closets and waiting rooms, Harry manages to avoid seeing Tremellen altogether. Which really is a good thing, because that prick is the very last person Harry needs to see right now.

It’s not that there’s anything he can do, officially; Harry and Draco don’t work in the same department, and soon enough Draco won’t be working for any department at all, but Harry knows better than to underestimate the man’s power to make him extremely uncomfortable just for his own entertainment. He’d proved that quite well enough with one well-aimed remark during the appeal meeting, and Harry has no desire for a repeat now that the man has photographic ammunition.

“He’s just gone into a meeting,” Eloise calls from the ward door, breaking into Harry’s thoughts.

He looks up from running a Diagnostic Charm over his sleeping patient and smiles at her. “Canteen’s all clear, then?

“Yes. How’re you doing? Alright?” she asks, phrasing the solicitous question in the direct way that Cecile never would.

“Better when my mouth’s full of oats and syrup.”

“You’re confident.”

“Wouldn’t you be?” Harry sheaths his wand, scribbling and inhaling lavender-scented air while she waits.

“I’m not sure we should even try,” Cecile opines as they take their seats around the usual table. She gazes mournfully into her coffee and sighs.

“What, because I’m so pitiful that none of you could even compete?” Harry regards her, head on one side. “Cecile, I didn’t know you cared.”

“Strictly speaking, the, er... traumatic events took place yesterday, so I’m not sure they really count,” Terry attempts, serious dark eyes affixed on the butterscotch topping.

Eloise swirls her teabag and shakes her head. “Terry.”

“The man’s got a point,” concedes Cecile, eyes straying to the plate.

Harry, torn between exasperation and admiration for the level of seriousness Terry applies to the flapjack game, gulps at his scalding-hot coffee and folds his arms on the table top.

“I’m not sure on your definition of a traumatic event, but wouldn’t you at least consider being outed by the Daily sodding Prophet and a photograph of oneself being groped up against a hedge?” Harry demands, realising too late that he’s practically yelled the last part when the occupants of the next table look up and then dissolve into whispers and giggles.

Harry stares at the table, wishing it could swallow him up. He’s certain there are tables that can do that.

“I would,” Eloise says eventually. “I only had a sparkly vomit story, anyhow.”

Terry chews on his lip, repentant. “Fair enough. You beat my argument with Tremellen and my... er... argument with the floor.”

Harry’s head jerks up.

“He slipped in the sparkly vomit,” Cecile supplies. “Ka-thunk.” She slams her palm down on the table, making it shake.

Harry laughs in spite of himself. “Still want to make a play, Cecile?”

She shrugs. “Meh. Nothing standout. Just that dwarf thing, which was fairly mortifying, even by my standards.”

Eloise pauses in her routine inspection of her dangling teabag, and frowns at Cecile. “What dwarf thing?”

Cecile sighs. “First clinic patient of the day. I was calling him in from the waiting room, a very full waiting room, I might add. Turned to me and asked me if I have any dwarf in me.” She scowls. “I know I’m short, but really. I said no, and he asked me if I’d like some.”

Amused, Harry looks up in time to see Terry snort cappuccino out of his nose, and Cecile turn very slightly pink. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her blush before in all the time he’s known her.

“Oh dear,” Eloise manages.

“Yes, and the whole waiting room thought it was hilarious, which made my morning really fun.” She pauses, turning to Harry. “But yeah, you still win. How did Malfoy take it?” she asks, pushing the plate in Harry’s direction.

“He’s alright,” Harry replies through a mouthful of flapjack. “He wasn’t best pleased about the five Howlers we got before breakfast, but then neither was I. I suppose I knew what I was getting into, didn’t I?”

Five? Fuck me,” Cecile explodes, embarrassment forgotten.

“I’m really glad I’m not famous,” Terry offers, mouth twisting in a sympathetic grimace.

“Me too.” Eloise sips her tea delicately. “I think they’d probably have made a fuss about anyone you were seeing, wouldn’t they?” Harry’s about to interject when she adds: “But it’s ten times more scandalous that it’s Draco.”

Harry glances up at the huge wall clock and makes some swift calculations. He swallows the last chunk of flapjack, washing it down with the dregs of his coffee and wipes his hands on a paper napkin.

“You’re right. Also, tequila is bad,” he adds, exchanging a glance with Cecile. She smirks. “I want to run up to Chem Dep before Tremellen gets out of his meeting...” He shrugs sheepishly, rising from his chair and smiling apologetically at his friends.

As he turns to Disapparate, he sees Terry and Cecile making kissy faces at him.

**~*~**

“Healer Potter,” nods Shelagh Carmichael from the doorway of Stage One.

Harry pauses, hoping he’s imagining the strange look on her perpetually serious face. “Healer Carmichael,” he returns warily. If she mentions the words ‘Daily’ and ‘Prophet’ he may just scream. “Is something wrong?”

Her eyes flicker briefly. “Other than that ridiculous board decision, I suppose not. But Draco received some interesting news this afternoon. He’s in his laboratory.” Carmichael gestures vaguely and grants Harry an odd half-smile. “I believe he’s waiting for you.”

“Oh.” Harry frowns. “Thank you.”

He hurries away, too intrigued to read much into Carmichael’s shifty expression and not wanting to. Set upon as soon as he enters the lounge, Harry submits for a few moments, revelling in the company of people who have never seen a photograph of himself and Draco kissing against a hedge, happily supplying the latest Quidditch scores and allowing himself to be drawn into a discussion about the benefits of Hawaiian Kona over Jamaican Blue Mountain with a Muggle-born coffee enthusiast.

“Your water’s too hot,” he argues, extricating himself and shuffling toward the door, “it should never taste burnt.”

When he enters the lab and leans gratefully against the closed door, he feels fully calm for the first time all day, and there’s a little part of him that’s still delightedly incredulous that being shut up in a little room with Draco Malfoy can produce that feeling.

Draco, pacing the floor and frowning at a piece of parchment, looks up and startles Harry with a smile of pure relief. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”

“Haven’t got long. Tremellen’s in a meeting and I’m avoiding him like the plague.”

Draco’s mouth twists. He steps slowly into Harry’s personal space until Harry grasps his upper arms and hauls him close enough to rest their foreheads against each other. The closeness is always reassuring, and it’s starting to hurt to let it go.

“Has it been horrible?” Draco says.

“A lot of staring. Nothing I can’t cope with.” Harry stares into the grey eyes at close range. “I saw Carmichael, what’s the news?”

Draco huffs warm, coffee-scented breath over Harry’s lips. Steps back slightly and indicates the parchment clutched in his left hand. “Talk about timing. I couldn’t believe it when they sent this today, after everything that’s been in the papers, but when I checked they’d actually signed it two days ago, and you know, it’s signed now, so they can’t—”

“What is, Draco? You’ve lost me.”

“We got our trials.”

Harry’s hands slip down to Draco’s hips and grip hard. Delighted, he laughs. “You’re kidding.”

“No. Full Ministry approval to carry out supervised clinical trials for the new detox regimen. If we’re successful, it’ll be an approved treatment.”

“That’s great...” Harry stops, bemused. “And yet you look unimpressed.”

Draco’s eyes flicker painfully and he clutches the parchment harder. “It’s not that. I started planning out the trial schedule and realised that I’d have just enough time to do everything before I... didn’t work here any more,” he says in a rush.

The news is bittersweet, ironic, Harry realises that now. With some effort, he forces determined optimism to the surface. “OK. But then you can flog your detox back to St Mungo’s and set up Malfoy Manor Chem Dep,” he insists, holding Draco’s sceptical gaze.

“You really do believe that, don’t you?”

Harry lifts an eyebrow, running his fingers under Draco’s sweater and resisting the urge to shake him.

“Tequila-free, I really do believe it.”

Draco smiles slowly. “I will not be calling it Malfoy Manor Chem Dep.”

Chapter Text

Harry has never been more grateful for Polyjuice than he is right now. He has deliberately selected a fine, light brown hair from the most nondescript-looking individual he could find: the Muggle standing in front of him in the coffee shop queue. He feels completely at one with the background, seated at a small, round table in the corner of the Dragon and Snitch.

His night out with Draco still feels far too recent, and despite Ron’s repeated protests that what Harry really needs is ‘a proper drink or ten’, Harry is stubbornly sipping ginger ale that prickles at the back of his throat but leaves his head refreshingly clear. Though, as the end of the night draws near, he’s beginning to question the wisdom of staying sober.

In amongst the music and warm buzz of late-Friday-night conversation, he is able to pick out his own name and Draco’s with alarming frequency.

“... never saw Potter with a girl, though, did you?”

“Even so, that Malfoy... hated each other in school, didn’t they...?”

“... fine line, ain’t it?”

“... tricked into it, can’t be gay, I mean...”

Harry rubs ineffectually at his temples and sighs. “No, of course not,” he mutters to himself. “Far more likely is that I allowed him to somehow con me into a relationship. Obviously.”

Ron, blearily fascinated with the unusual length of Hermione’s fingers, says nothing, but she looks up at Harry’s retort and sets her wineglass down.

“They’re going to speculate and gossip, it’s you.” She lowers her voice and leans closer, allowing Ron to pull her Polyjuiced hand closer to his face. “And Draco, obviously. You just have to wait until they get bored of it.”

“Yeah, and who knows when that will be.” Harry grimaces and throws back the rest of his drink, again fleetingly wishing it was something a lot stronger.

“It doesn’t help that you always completely avoid the press, you know. If you don’t give them anything, then they’ve no choice but to guess and theorize and make stuff up.”

Harry has heard this argument many, many times before, and much as he suspects that she’s right, he’s always refused to court the media and he’s not about to start now, over this.

“I know that, but what would you have me do?”

Hermione shrugs, a smile tugging at her lips as Ron presses a messy kiss to her palm. “Give them a statement. Set the record straight. You know: ‘Yes, I’m seeing Draco Malfoy. No, he didn’t trick me or dose me or hex me into it. No, he’s not evil. Indeed, it’s a distinct possibility that he likes kittens. Yes, I’m aware we’re both men. Please stop taking my picture.’ That sort of thing.”

Harry snorts. “Not a chance. ‘Potter in Gay Press Release?’ I wouldn’t give Rita Skeeter the satisfaction.”

“Just a suggestion,” Hermione says lightly.

“Hmm.”

Harry knows all about Hermione’s suggestions, and with the benefit of his clear head, swiftly realises that the only way to derail her is to change the subject completely. He hadn’t actually wanted to tell her about Draco’s tentative plans just yet, but as he stares desperately into his empty glass and listens to Ron’s semi-coherent mumblings about the shinyness of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s head, he realises he’s got nothing else.

“You know, if you agreed to do a joint interview, you could—”

Suppressing a horrified shudder, Harry interrupts: “Draco’s going to open his own centre when they close Chem Dep. And I’m going to help him.”

Across the table, Ron and Hermione both fall silent at once.

Well. That’s one way to shut them up. Harry takes their mute stares as an invitation to continue, and leans comfortably on folded arms across the table, explaining Draco’s ideas in broad strokes, telling them about the opportunity to create a long-term programme, the Manor, and the potential income from the potion trials. When he’s finished, slightly breathless and surprised by the resulting rush of excitement in his veins, Ron and Hermione are still without words.

Harry stares back for a good few seconds before shrugging, rising and fighting his way to the bar to replenish their drinks.

“You’re not giving up your job, are you?” Hermione says when he returns to his seat.

Harry slides full glasses into his friends’ grateful hands and shakes his head, grateful they’ve snapped out of their stupor.

“Don’t be daft. No. I meant more... moral support. Practical support. He doesn’t need a Healer; Stage One’s staying in place at St Mungo’s.” Harry rubs at a water ring on the table and smiles wryly. “I don’t think I could work for him permanently, anyway. That’s asking for trouble.”

“More trouble than what happened the last time you worked for him?” Hermione sips her wine innocently.

“Trouble as in the catching a drug dealer thing, or the shagging him thing?” Ron asks bluntly.

Harry snorts and Hermione doesn’t bother to repress an indulgent smile. “Either,” they both concede.

“It’s a big project. I mean, I’m starting to learn not to underestimate Draco, but even so... he’s going to be very busy,” Hermione says, mouth twisting with a disappointment that puzzles Harry.

“Yeah, but why’s that... oh.” Harry nudges her knee under the table as he comprehends the distress that she’s trying not to show. “He’ll still have time to help you, you know, with your paper. It’s going to take a while to get up and running, and Chem Dep will be gone by Christmas.”

Hermione brightens, and the strange long fingers cease their fitful twining around the stem of her glass. Harry smiles back, momentarily grateful he’s fully compos mentis. It’s a surreal situation, if he thinks too deeply about it, but he knows how invested Hermione is in this new reform project, and equally, how she has come to value her new and tentative correspondence-based collaboration with Draco.

The funny thing is, Harry reflects, the two of them actually have a good deal in common. Both own more big, serious books than should be allowed, both are extremely stubborn and both fiercely intelligent. It’s probably a good job that they don’t have their collective sights set on bringing down the Ministry from within.

There’s an image. Harry smiles and relaxes back into his seat for the first time all evening.

“Merlin,” Ron says mournfully. “I wish you still had that Time-Turner, ’Mione.”

“Why?”

“’Cause then I could go back three months and put a hundred Galleons on Harry hooking up with Malfoy, and them opening a rehab centre together. Would’ve made a fucking fortune.”

Hermione looks momentarily scandalised, and Harry smiles, falling into soft, uncontrollable laughter along with Ron.

“Next time, I’ll tell you in advance, I promise.”

“Ah, promises, promises...” Ron narrows his eyes. “Promise what?”

“That’ll be my cue,” Hermione says, draining her glass with surprising speed and getting to her feet.

“Cue?” Ron cuts in, also finishing his drink. “Exactly. Shiny as a cue ball. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“I’m going to regret asking, I know I am, but what is?”

“Kingsley’s head. Obviously.”

Harry snorts, pulling on his coat. “Obviously.” He turns to Hermione, who is slightly unsteady on her feet but still managing to drag Ron into a standing position. “I’ll come over one day next week, OK?”

“’Driguez reckons he waxes it, you know. Hey—” Ron spins around, indignant. “What about Sunday?”

Sighing, Harry pokes Ron gently in the back and follows them both out into the night. The air is cool and clean after the warm, stale atmosphere of the bar. “Ron, your mother wants nothing more right now than to rip me a new one. Remember? I doubt that she wants me over for roast beef and apple pie.”

“Well, no, not together.” Ron frowns.

Harry rubs his eyes. Wonders why he bothers trying to argue with Ron after a certain point in the night. “She’s mad at me about Draco, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”

“Molly’ll come around, Harry,” Hermione says, squeezing his hand. “It’s only out of concern, you know that.”

“I do. I just wish everyone would stop being so concerned about me, I can look after myself. I don’t need the world to protect me.”

Hermione and Ron know that, Harry knows they do. It’s everyone else. Forcing cold air out of his lungs, he lingers awhile and watches the unfamiliar Hermione bat Ron’s hands away from her fingers as she efficiently buttons up his coat and kisses him on the nose, Apparating them both away. Their affection, their closeness and silly arguing and openness seems so easy, and his warm prickle of envy is nothing new.

“I don’t need the world to protect me from Draco Malfoy,” he mutters to the night. Sighs. “Draco Malfoy can do his worst. I can handle it.”

Once home, Harry hangs around in his living room despite the hour, looking at the empty fireplace. He knows Draco is home, at the Manor, though Harry doubts he will be asleep. Harry has found that Draco likes the early hours so much that he’s almost nocturnal, or would be had he not a nine-to-five job.

For another month, anyway.

Harry cringes and lights the fire with a flick of his wand. He sits on the hearth rug, knees drawn up to his chest, staring into the dancing flames. Most likely he’s sitting in his favourite lounge, surrounded by books and notes and empty teacups; perhaps he’s staring into the fireplace with that wonderful look of concentration on his face. Harry wonders who he addresses his cutting remarks to when he’s alone, or if he just saves them up for when he’s in company.

The soft sigh that escapes Harry’s lips makes his head jerk up in alarm. Surely, surely he’s not moping in front of his fireplace at one o’clock in the morning, thinking pointless and dreamy thoughts about Draco Malfoy. Oh, god. And it’s not like he can even blame it on excessive Firewhisky consumption; he’s unequivocally stone-cold sober.

“I’m turning into a complete girl, you know,” he tells the flames loudly.

There’s a muffled creaking from the next room, and Harry laughs softly, dropping his head back against the arm of the sofa.

“I don’t recall asking for your opinion!” he calls, and then there’s silence.

Dragging himself to his feet, Harry heads upstairs. Even though he knows that Draco likes to be awake when everyone else is asleep, common decorum tells him it’s too late to disturb him. Especially to disturb him just because Harry feels strange going to bed on his own. Undressing in the dark, he slides between the sheets and spreads out into too much space.

It’s silly and a bit raw but Harry’s tired and can no longer be bothered fighting with his own subconscious; the simple fact is that they now spend so many nights together in Harry’s bedroom, that Harry doesn’t sleep properly without Draco any more.

There, said it. I miss you, you stupid, argumentative, beautiful, warm... bastard.

It’s not like they won’t see each other tomorrow, but this is getting ridiculous. Harry runs his fingertips over the soft, worn string circling his wrist and smiles.

**~*~**

Harry looks up from his reading at the flash of lightning that illuminates his living room and automatically starts up a count inside his head: one, two, three, four... stopping when he hears the ominous rumble of thunder in the distance. The storm is getting closer, and it’s one of those days when the best place in the world to be is inside, looking out at it from next to a warm fire.

Stretching lazily in his favourite armchair, Harry mutters a spell to increase the flames in the grate and turns back to his habitual Saturday morning activity: reading all of the weekend papers he can get his hands on, both Wizarding and Muggle. The Prophet only gets a cursory skim-through after recent events, but the others are devoured with a rapt enjoyment and absorption that he doesn’t have time for on any other day.

Harry likes the weekend newspapers, with their glossy supplements and silly lifestyle advice and fashion pages that he doesn’t really understand, but admires all the same, a bit like he does with Draco.

He likes to read his horoscope out loud, because Aunt Petunia used to say that it was bad luck to do so. He likes to mull over the vague, amorphous words, nod sagely to himself and then disregard them completely.

Weekend crosswords are harder, and a lot of the time he doesn’t finish them. But Harry doesn’t mind this, because not finishing the Saturday crossword is as much a part of his ritual as Earl Grey, bare feet (even if it’s December) and his well-bitten red pen.

Much as Harry revels in this insignificant solitary custom, he doesn’t mind too much that Draco likes to pick up his discarded magazines from the floor when he turns up after his Saturday handovers with Ginny, and he doesn’t mind too much that Draco sits in his favourite chair and shakes his head at Harry’s bitten pen and doesn’t move until he’s filled in all the remaining spaces. He doesn’t mind that when he’s finished, Draco’s eyes gleam and he looks ever so pleased with himself and demands attention and kisses.

Harry doesn’t even mind that Draco always acts like he’s just decided to casually drop in ‘on his way back’ from St Mungo’s every Saturday, even though they both know perfectly well that Grimmauld Place is no more ‘on the way’ to Wiltshire than Edinburgh is on the way to Venezuela.

He knows exactly what it means, incorporating Draco into his outside-of-work routines, and it feels scary and risky and warm and just like it fits. He also thinks he knows better than to push Draco into any sort of overt declaration of intention, and it’s OK, because he’ll be here, Harry knows he will.

Throwing down the crossword, Harry picks up the Quibbler and smiles softly at the front-page article. There’s another photograph of himself and Draco seemingly having a conversation somewhere in the hospital, and the headline reads: ‘Harry Potter Possessed by Wrackspurts?

Points for complete and utter insanity, he decides.

“You decent?”

Harry smiles at the little warm jolt of pleasure that accompanies the voice, and leans over to look at the fireplace.

“I don’t know, am I?”

There’s a scuffling sound, the click of boots on stone and the rumble of soft laughter as Draco steps out of the fireplace and looks down at him from beside the armchair.

“You look alright to me,” he says softly, grey eyes warm. He’s wearing jeans and a worn-in leather jacket that smells fantastic. Harry stares. The fine blond hair is slightly wet, and he frowns.

“You’ve been outside.”

“Mm. I was going to walk, and then changed my mind. Storm,” Draco elaborates, glancing out at the swirling clouds, just as another shock of lightning illuminates the room. “Lightning,” he adds absently, skin flashed paler and nose wrinkling.

Something raw skates across his face, almost too quickly for Harry to see it, but not quite. Reaching for Draco’s hips, Harry scrambles to kneel in the chair and searches his eyes as a not-too-distant memory strikes him somewhere uncomfortable.

‘... Avada Kedavra smells like... a little like the air just before a lightning strike, and a little like wet leaves...’

Harry swallows dryly. “Draco,” he whispers, and pulls him into a kiss that’s nothing more or less than firm, solid reassurance. He hopes.

All too briefly, a cold hand slides against his cheek as warm lips press back against his, and then Draco pulls back, eyes a little too steady. He looks around at the detritus of Harry’s morning, the cups and spoons and biscuit crumbs. Newspapers and glossy supplements strewn everywhere.

“You’re in my chair,” says Draco.

Harry snorts. He’s not going to force Draco to talk about his memories of the war; he can only imagine how he’d feel if the opposite were true. Anyway, Saturdays are for feeling safe and warm and for taking time over silly pointless things that the world doesn’t yet understand.

“Your chair, is it?”

Draco smiles and shrugs off his jacket, hanging it carefully over the back of the sofa. “You know it is. And where’s that disgusting pen?”

Harry fishes the chewed pen out from down the side of the armchair cushion and holds it out to Draco as he gets slothfully to his feet. “This one?”

“That’s the one. You just can’t help putting things in your mouth, can you?”

Laughing softly, Harry swipes Draco’s damp hair out of his eyes and dodges the kiss, just catching a brush of mouths that makes his stomach flip over as he escapes into the kitchen. Draco sinks into the vacated chair and picks up the nearest magazine. Harry listens to Draco’s soft muttering and the rain against the kitchen window as he makes tea the Muggle way, because spellwork and a decent hot beverage do not mix, until:

“How can you not know who invented the Patronus charm?”

Harry pulls a face at the kitchen cupboards. “Because knowing that isn’t in the least bit helpful in actually being able to produce one, perhaps?” he calls back. “Stupid crossword,” he mutters to himself.

“Sounds like a justification to me,” Draco yells over the hiss of the kettle.

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry mumbles, just for old times’ sake.

He retrieves the sugar jar from the top cupboard and it rattles its door in a rather attention-seeking fashion.

Don’t forget the sugar,’ Harry mouths to himself, setting the jar down, pouring the hot water, and waiting.

“Don’t forget the sugar,” calls Draco.

Harry smirks. Tradition is a wonderful thing.

**~*~**

The storm is still raging three hours later, long after they emerge, sticky and ruffled, from the bedroom, and move around Harry’s kitchen in near-silence. Harry blinks blurrily at the sheeting rain; his glasses are still sitting on his bedside table, but he doesn’t need them for this. Draco is quite close enough to see, and Harry’s world closes comfortably down to grey eyes, crunching sounds and the warm smell of slightly burnt buttered toast.

He leans back, dressed only in his underwear, the edge of the kitchen counter-top cold against his back. Draco stands between his legs, shirtless, cup cradled under his chin as Harry trails languid fingers through his hair. Humming softly, Draco’s eyes flutter closed and he turns his face unconsciously into the caress.

The slow, aching wave of wellbeing that surges over Harry is overwhelming; he can’t help wondering what he was thinking all the years he wasn’t doing this, even though that probably doesn’t make any sense. Regardless, this nameless feeling is exactly what’s been missing, and there’s no way he’s letting it go.

Draco sips his tea and sighs softly at the fingertips on the back of his neck.

“Have you ever slept with a girl?” Harry asks suddenly, impulse getting the better of him.

Grey eyes snap open. Draco huffs and sets his cup down on the counter top. “What a time to ask that!”

“Well, you tell me when’s a good time to ask that question,” Harry says defensively, sliding his hands down Draco’s bare back and holding him in place.

Draco lifts an eyebrow and says nothing for a moment, and Harry’s intrigue burns bright. It’s not as though it matters, after all, but... fuck, he’s curious now. Of course, Pansy Parkinson was ostensibly Draco’s girlfriend at school, but Harry knows better than anyone that things aren’t always quite what they seem.

“It’s no big deal,” Harry ventures. “You know I have. Ginny, of course, and... two others. Ron set me up, and I...” He shrugs, looking briefly at the floor. Hoping that his offer will stir Draco into responding in kind.

Draco folds his arms, which is no mean feat considering how close he’s standing to Harry. “I still can’t get my head around you and Ginevra—OK, not about that,” Draco amends hastily at Harry’s look. “Yes, alright? I have. Pansy, in fourth year. And it was just as awkward and surreal as I’d expected it to be. Are you happy now?”

Draco’s expression is uncomfortable and petulant; Harry slides both hands up his back and nods carefully. He doesn’t know why, but he’s relieved. Stupid, irrational, but there it is.

“Just once?”

“No.” Draco grimaces. “But the second time did a great job of clearing away any remaining doubts about my sexuality.”

Harry grins. “Not totally without merit, then.”

Draco snorts, leaning back slightly to look at Harry carefully. “So, what did you make of it, then? With those girls that Weasel... Weasley set you up with?”

Startled, Harry tightens his grip on the waistband of Draco’s half-unbuttoned jeans; he hadn’t anticipated the question or the intense, demanding eye contact. His heart races and he doesn’t quite know why. “Well, it was OK. I... it was sex.” He reddens slightly and shrugs, faking nonchalance. “I got off.”

Draco’s sudden grin is surprising and spine-tingling. “See, that’s the thing.” Harry doesn’t know what the thing is, but he knows that Draco has uncrossed his arms, wrapped them around his waist, and is pressed warm, firm and full length against his body.

“Hmm?”

“There’s nothing wrong with girls, per se, but a girl can’t hold you down and fuck you like I can,” Draco whispers, licking hotly behind Harry’s left ear.

Oh. Oh, god, Harry groans silently, body responding instantly to the words and the warm mouth against his skin. As usual, though, his thought/speech filter dissolves at the first sign of pressure; he’s still urging Draco closer as he mumbles:

“But Draco, you’ve never fucked me.”

Immediately, Draco pulls away from his neck and stares at him sharply from inches away. Harry mentally slaps himself and chews on his bottom lip.

“Goodness, really?”

Harry glares until he drops the sarcastic expression; now he merely looks exasperated. It’s not as though it’s been a conscious decision so far, Harry tells himself. At least, not on his part. So, he hasn’t actually... but he wants—well, he wants Draco any way he can get him, if he’s honest.

“Pretend I didn’t say that. I was just... stating the obvious, as per bloody usual.” Harry sighs.

Draco smiles slowly, eyes cast down, pressing warm palms against Harry’s bare chest. “I know that. I didn’t want to push you, if you must know. But don’t think I haven’t wanted to.” He looks up, eyes filled with heat that threatens to spill over, and somewhere beyond the window, the wind howls.

“Push me,” Harry whispers, heart skipping painfully as Draco’s eyes darken. “I want you to.”

For long seconds, all Harry hears in the kitchen is their rough breathing as they stare at each other, and then Draco is gripping his hair and thrusting his tongue between Harry’s eagerly parted lips without preamble. Harry reciprocates immediately and with enthusiasm, melting into the kiss and claiming Draco’s soft, wet mouth with a stifled groan.

The hand that slides down between them and under his waistband, wrapping firmly around his straining erection, makes him shudder and grasp at Draco’s denim-clad arse; when that hand starts to slide, slowly, teasingly, Harry pulls back slightly from the kiss. Draco’s intentions are written all over his flushed face, and Harry can’t help but smile breathlessly.

“I think you’ve got a thing about my kitchen, Draco Malfoy.”

Smirking, Draco disentangles himself, sliding gracefully to his knees and divesting Harry of his boxers at the same time. Looking up pointedly, he flicks his tongue out and licks the tip of Harry’s cock. Harry groans and grips the kitchen counter hard.

“What if I have?” He slides his mouth over Harry’s erection and it’s all Harry can do to keep his eyes open.

“Well,” Harry manages weakly, “the floor’s cold, for one.”

Draco hums around him, amused. He draws back, and Harry immediately curses himself for continuing the conversation; the air is suddenly cool against his wet, heated flesh. “I can fix that.”

“True... but...”

“Hmm.” Draco grips his hips and nuzzles the soft skin of his cheek against Harry’s helplessly twitching erection, a strange little half-smile on his face. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Oh, you...” Harry closes his eyes, hips coming away from the counter. “Sense of adventure? You’re kidding me. You are, aren’t you?” Truly, he thinks, it’s amazing he’s even this coherent, with Draco doing... that.

“Not hero stuff, idiot. Bedroom stuff. Or not bedroom, as the case may be,” Draco amends, gripping Harry’s wrists and yanking him down onto the floor.

“Fuck, cold,” Harry hisses, landing with bare knees on the chilly tiles.

“Sorry,” Draco murmurs, to his astonishment, mouth pressed against Harry’s neck. He grabs his wand from where he dumped it earlier on the kitchen table, and hurriedly casts something that Harry doesn’t quite catch but that heats the tiles gently as if they’ve been warmed by the sun.

“Nice.”

“Mm.” Draco drops his wand to the floor with a clatter and moves to sit across Harry’s lap, rough denim scraping over his bare, sensitive skin, chest pressed against Harry’s, teeth pulling gently at his bottom lip.

I’m naked on my kitchen floor, Harry thinks distractedly. Naked. Kitchen floor... and that’s as far as he gets before the words are swept out of his mind entirely by a powerful deluge of desire for the man who’s pushing against him, rolling supple hips and whispering the most fantastic, filthy words into his ear.

Warm skin, the smell of sex and arousal and faded citrus, tiles hot/soothing against his back as he scrambles to lie flat, pulling Draco down with him. Pulling at his unbuttoned jeans, dragging them low on Draco’s hips and pushing up into the hot, devastatingly good slide of hardness against hardness that threatens to liquefy his spine.

“Yes, want you.”

“I know,” Draco breathes against his mouth. “Want you, too. Can’t wait to be inside you... going to fuck you into the floor until you come for me, OK?”

Harry nods blindly, kisses him hard, flooded with hot, squirmy want. “Yeah.”

Draco pulls back onto his knees, breathing hard. Trails light fingers over Harry’s skin, making him twist and bite his lip, slipping between parted legs to graze the pad of his thumb over the tight, sensitized skin at his entrance; he jumps, a small, dry sound ripped from his throat.

Want you, so much. Harry swallows. Holds the eye contact firmly. I’m not afraid. Just want you.

Lips curving into a tiny smile, Draco’s eyes flare and he rubs torturous circles into the flesh that suddenly has an electrified link with his cock.

“Stay right there—”

“—where are you going?” Harry demands, bereft at no longer being touched.

Draco only smiles, getting to his feet and shaking his jeans the rest of the way off. He steps across the kitchen and starts rifling through Harry’s cupboards, wisely avoiding the ones that answer back. Harry leans up on his elbows and watches him, hungrily observing the way the bones and light muscles shift under the pale skin, loving the way that here, in his heat-drenched kitchen with the rain pelting down outside, Draco is completely unselfconscious. Naked. Delicious. Harry’s.

Amused, Draco turns. Holds aloft a small bottle. “Almond oil? What do you do with this?”

Harry laughs, comprehension bringing with it a rush of heat. “Not what you’re about to do with it, that’s for sure.”

“What then?” Draco returns to the floor and pours half of the contents into his palm. Harry watches his glistening fingers, transfixed.

“For cooking, you idiot. It’s really good for baking with, because—um, oh, fuck.” Harry loses himself as warm slippery fingers circle and press inside him, slow, careful but firm, opening and raking over neglected nerve endings that spark fiery trails under his skin. He inhales sharply and scrapes at the heated tiles with sweat-damp fingers.

Draco’s eyes simmer, dark, demanding. Lips parted and then pressed together. Leaning over and emptying cold oil out onto Harry’s belly, smiling at his shiver. Strong, graceful hands stroking Harry into a frenzy, one gliding slowly over his cock and one rubbing and twisting exquisite painful desire so incapacitating inside him that Harry drops his head back to the floor and throws an arm over his face.

“You should see yourself.” Draco’s voice is low and harsh; Harry laughs breathlessly.

“Why’s that?”

“You look fantastic like this,” he elaborates, with a push and a twist that unsticks Harry’s back from the tiles as he arches helplessly into Draco’s hands.

“Come on, then,” Harry urges, challenges, lowering his arm from his eyes to press over his mouth. He tastes salt against his own skin and meets hot grey eyes with the defiance and certainty of a man accepting, choosing and welcoming a new element to his Saturday ritual.

Draco lifts an eyebrow and raises a slippery hand to swipe through dishevelled blond hair. Harry sprawls, knees drawn up, watching a dribble of oil slide down over white-skin-black-lines, slick-shiny down to his elbow, and can’t suppress his whine as he is suddenly left empty. But Draco leans down, splays sweet-almond scented fingers over Harry’s jaw and kisses him deeply, slowly, distracting him—Harry realises—from the breath-stealing stretch as he pushes inside.

“Draco.” He blinks, swallows, dry-mouthed. It’s a strange, dull ache with sharp edges and he welcomes it, relishing the connection, feeling the flush all over as he stares into eyes that are overwhelmed by sensation, and realising just how powerful and vulnerable he is in this moment, all at once.

Leaning up to kiss Draco again, Harry pulls his breathing under control and wraps a leg around his waist, murmuring his encouragement into the hot mouth above his.

“Am I hurting you?” he demands, moving at last with a level of control that astonishes Harry almost into amusement.

“Yeah—” Honesty is always the best policy, isn’t it? “—don’t stop.”

Draco manages a shaky smirk, and doesn’t stop. Continues, instead, rocking into Harry, each stroke a little harder and deeper than the last, pressing a hand between them to slide his slick palm over Harry’s cock until it is once more painfully hard and the ache inside him warms and coalesces into something that feels so good that he never wants it to stop.

The sound he makes as he drags Draco harder into him and screws his eyes shut is shamefully uninhibited, but he is rewarded with a frenzied increase in pace and a kiss that threatens to turn him inside out, so it doesn’t matter.

“Harder,” he insists, biting his lip enough to draw blood. “So good.”

“Only if you look at me.” Draco’s voice is soft, and Harry’s eyes fly open immediately. “That’s better,” he whispers and settles into a rapid, intense rhythm.

When he shifts angles slightly, Harry instinctively grips his hips, needing him exactly— “—there, right there.”

Draco complies, mouth quirking upwards at one corner even though Harry can feel that he’s on the edge of his control, and that knowledge just heightens the waves of pleasure rippling out from his core; part of him wants to see Draco lose it first, but he knows that he won’t hold on that long, and also that Draco would never give in first. Harry doesn’t know if he’s submitting or not, but he doesn’t care, because the pounding inside him feels fucking amazing, and he’s going to lose it any second now, on his kitchen floor, no less...

“Come for me now,” Draco says, hot against his mouth, and it could be a command, a request, a plea, but whichever way, it’s enough, and the pushing, sliding, pressing ache ignites. Harry cries out and comes with a violent shudder over Draco’s hand and himself.

Dazed, shaking, he wraps his arms tighter around Draco and watches his face as he drives harder, faster, frantically, nails digging crescent-shaped marks into Harry’s shoulder. Eyes almost black with need, so close.

Sensing he just needs a tiny push over the edge, Harry brings up his other leg to wrap around his waist; the shift pulls him impossibly deeper, sparks a thrill of aftershocks through Harry and drags a rough, low groan from Draco as he stiffens, closes his eyes and lets go, burying his face in Harry’s neck.

Harry lets his feet slide to the floor and his eyes fall closed, but otherwise doesn’t move an inch; he’s far too contented and besides, Draco is actually quite heavy when he’s sprawled on top of him like a dead weight, breathing slow and heavy against Harry’s hair. It isn’t until the tiles start to turn cold underneath him that Harry realises that whatever Warming Charm Draco used has worn off completely.

Sense of adventure notwithstanding, Harry resolves to insist on the bed next time. Draco is a very strange man.

“Up.” He pokes gently at Draco and kisses his ear to balance it out. “My arse is freezing, get up.”

Draco shuffles backwards reluctantly and slides free; Harry inhales sharply. Unsteadily, they get to their feet and Harry takes a moment to regard the mess of oil and... other things, smeared across his kitchen floor and himself. Sticky skin isn’t a pleasant feeling, so he casts a quick Cleaning Spell that tingles across his abdomen and groin, but he leaves the floor as it is, earning himself an amused, quirky smile from Draco that makes his heart tighten and swell.

Harry reaches out for him, and their soft, slow kiss is only broken when the crash of thunder outside startles them apart.

They settle on the sofa, curled together like puzzle pieces with a blanket thrown over them; having learned that Draco only seeks out this kind of comfort when undressed, Harry takes care to absorb as much of it as he can. And, of course, to do his level best to ensure that Draco spends as much time out of his clothes as possible.

Absently, Draco slides his index and middle fingers under the string around Harry’s wrist, pressing fingertips against his slow, steady pulse. He gropes around on the floor and picks up the Quibbler. Spreads it out on drawn-up knees and stares at the front page; meanwhile, Harry stares at him.

“Wrackspurts, eh?” Draco snorts. “That’s a new one.”

“Mm. I’m possessed,” Harry says, pressing his nose into Draco’s almond-scented hair and smiling; he’s never going to be able to cook with that particular oil again, at least not without thinking very dirty thoughts indeed.

“When do you think they’ll get bored?” Though he’s feigning indifference, Harry knows that Draco’s sick of the conspiracy theorists, the morally outraged reporters and article after article after article speculating on why someone like Harry would want to be with someone like him.

He wishes he could say ‘soon’ and mean it, but the Wizarding media are tenacious, dogged and downright unreasonable when it comes to a supposed scandal. He’s said: ‘I don’t care what they think, you know?’ so many times that it’s in danger of losing all meaning.

“Maybe... when you open your rehab, they can gnash their teeth over that instead, and they’ll forget all about the fact that you’re my...” Harry pauses, chewing on his lip. ...that you’re mine, he finishes in his head. “...that you’re with me,” he settles on.

Draco sighs heavily and flips to the sports section. “I suppose I’d better hurry up then.”

Harry pulls the blanket tighter and allows the sound of the rain to soothe him as he reads the Quidditch results over Draco’s shoulder. They’re safe here.

**~*~**

With the media maelstrom showing no signs of dying down, and the last four weeks of Chem Dep as they know it slipping away, Harry finds solace in one of his favourite quiet little rituals: taking his lunch break in the late afternoon and taking up space in Draco’s office.

He hasn’t given up eating with his friends, but the relentless speculative glances and questions and murmurs are taking their toll. He doesn’t want anyone to think he’s running away, but well, maybe he is running away a little bit. At least until the employees of St Mungo’s have found something else to talk about.

Tremellen, to Harry’s eternal astonishment, has said very little directly, but his smirks and barbed comments and assignments convey his disdain to Harry loud and clear. Though Harry couldn’t care less for his approval, he finds himself in the curious position of wishing his mentor would just grow up.

Until then, Harry is sitting at Draco’s desk, scratching away at the ‘Midweek Mystery’ Wednesday crossword in the Prophet and eating a very messy, very delicious chicken, bacon and mozzarella sandwich.

Opposite him, Draco is frowning heavily and scribbling frantic calculations in one of his many leather-bound notebooks. The silence is soft and comfortable around them, the office door closed, shutting out the world.

Struck by inspiration, Harry emits a small sound of triumph and scrawls: K-N-E-A-Z-L-E-P-O-X.

Splat.

A blob of warm mayonnaise squeezes out from the side of Harry’s roll and falls to the desk top.

Draco doesn’t look up, but his nostrils flare with irritation and the knuckles on his quill-wielding hand turn white.

Harry watches him with interest and scoops up the escaped condiment with his finger, lifting it to his mouth and sucking the smear of vinegary-creamy mayonnaise into his mouth. Draco flinches.

Harry switches his pen to the other hand and fills in V-E-R-I-T-A-S-E-R-U-M, holding his sandwich carefully aloft. High enough, it seems, for the next drop of mayonnaise to splatter a good two inches across the shiny mahogany surface. He bites his lip.

Draco looks up, grey eyes murderous. “If you don’t finish that sandwich and clean up after yourself within the next thirty seconds, I swear I will choke you with it.”

“No, you won’t,” Harry says mildly. He smiles, partly because he knows it will infuriate Draco, and partly because he’s starting to find Draco’s fits of pique amusing. And endearing. And oh, god, how he’d hate that if he knew. Harry’s smile stretches into an all-out grin.

The fact of the matter is, Draco can be a real grumpy bastard when he feels like it, and the best way to deal with it is to ignore him or distract him. Harry’s adding all the time to his internal ‘Handling Draco Malfoy’ manual. It’s an extensive and complicated volume.

He aims a Cleaning Spell at the desk and takes a huge, innocent bite of the sandwich, pointedly allowing any crumbs or drips to fall onto his newspaper. He’s quite happy for the Prophet to be smeared in grease, anyway. He’s only still doing their crossword because it’s tradition.

“I might,” Draco says. “Death by sandwich. And then you’d be sorry.”

Harry licks his fingers. “So would you. I think you’d miss me.”

Draco snorts. Smiles, and tries not to.

Triumphant, Harry returns to his late lunch and his crossword and the office lapses into silence, save for the sound of quill on parchment and Harry’s teeth crunching extra-crispy bacon.

Fifteen minutes and one sandwich later, he’s puzzling over the last clue and doodling absent-mindedly next to the crossword grid. Sighing, he gives in and fishes for help.

“Flower signifying delicacy?”

“How many letters?”

“Ten.”

“I have no idea.”

“Then why ask how many letters?”

Draco shrugs. “Speaking of delicacy.”

“Alright...” Harry looks up from his doodle briefly to frown at Draco across the desk

“I decided to talk to my mother about you,” Draco says casually.

Harry freezes. Stops drawing his cruel sketch of Tremellen in a dress in the margin of the paper and looks up with some trepidation. “Er. Right.” He licks his lips fretfully, mouth suddenly dry.

“Because I know she doesn’t get the papers or go out, and there isn’t really anyone she knows that’s likely to send her a copy or anything, but you never know, and I thought she’d find it marginally less distressing to hear it from me.”

The past tense makes Harry suddenly anxious. “You already did it, didn’t you?”

Torn between all-out anxiety and relief that Draco seems fearless with regard to telling his mother, of all people, about their relationship, Harry chews a thumbnail. If he’s done it, and he’s still alive and in one piece, that’s a good sign, surely. And it’s not like Draco really had anyone else to tell; there’s only Ginny, who already knew, and a couple of old rehab mates who live abroad now.

Draco lifts an eyebrow. “No, but you should see your face.”

Harry exhales messily and glares. Sometimes he remembers vividly why he used to hate Draco.

“Draco, you absolute shit.”

“Worth it.” Draco’s blinding grin shows both rows of perfect white teeth and softens Harry’s irritation instantly. “Anyway, I want you to come over to the Manor for lunch. Thought maybe if you at least get through a meal together before we talk, then she might take to the whole thing a little bit easier. I know she’s a bit frosty, but she’s a Malfoy, you know.” Draco shrugs and plays with his quill. “You can turn on your strange arrogant-nervous charm, and win her over.”

“My what? You think I’m charming?”

“That wasn’t the part you were supposed to focus on, really. So, Sunday, then?”

“This Sunday?” Harry repeats, gaping.

Draco sighs. “I know Sunday’s your designated Weasel Day and everything, but you said you were steering clear for a little while, and I just hoped that...” He trails off at Harry’s expression and instead just fixes Harry with a penetrating grey gaze.

Sunday lunch at Malfoy Manor. With Narcissa Malfoy. Harry thinks his brain might crash from an overload of weird, but across the desk, Draco looks guarded and hopeful and a little bit anxious, and the decision is made for him.

“OK. Sunday it is.”

Draco smiles brilliantly. He reaches out and grabs a handful of Harry’s shirt, simultaneously standing and hauling Harry closer across the desk for a messy, awkwardly-angled but heated kiss.

Gasping slightly, Harry drops back into his seat, smile tugging at his lips and belly awash with warmth.

“You taste like bacon,” Draco observes, settling back into his paperwork.

“Is that a bad thing?”

Before Draco can answer, a rapid knock at the door is followed immediately by Shelagh’s entrance to the office. Draco bristles slightly at the lack of adherence to the ‘Wait’ portion of his sign, but soon brightens when she informs him that it’s time to proceed with the next stage of the initial trial.

Draco’s Chromia Detox trials are now well underway, and early signs are good. Despite Draco’s stubborn insistence that Harry share the credit, Harry has been forced to step back from the project, if only because his patient-load downstairs doesn’t allow him the time he needs to oversee the trials. Since all clinical trials require the supervision of a qualified Healer, Shelagh Carmichael has happily stepped in, and although Harry knows Draco doesn’t quite click with her like he did with Redrow, he apparently trusts her enough to accept her offer.

Nine out of ten Chromia patients have eagerly accepted the experimental potion since it was offered, a fact that has surprised no one but Harry. ‘They don’t hear the word ‘experimental’,’ Draco had explained when he’d asked. ‘They only hear ‘potentially pain-free’ and it’s ‘Oh, fuck yes.’ To be honest, most of them don’t even hear the ‘potentially’.’ Harry doesn’t know whether to find this odd desperation and fearlessness impressive or depressing, but either way, it’s good for Draco’s research.

“The first test subject is ready to be brought around any time now,” Shelagh says, holding out a chart to Draco over Harry’s shoulder, nodding to Harry as she withdraws. If she has any comments about Harry’s frequent presence in a department he no longer works in, she’s keeping them to herself, and he appreciates that.

Draco frowns in concentration as he regards Carmichael’s notes. “OK. Let’s do it.”

Harry, about to rise from his seat, stiffens at the warmth at his back as Carmichael steps closer to him and looks over his shoulder at the almost-finished crossword.

“Cornflower,” she says, pointing with the tip of her wand, and then, “Sorry, bad habit.”

Harry turns to her, surprised. Smiles wryly. “Don’t apologise. Draco and I apparently know very little about delicacy.”

Shelagh just smiles.

Draco snorts and stalks out of the room, gesturing for Carmichael to follow him. Harry watches them go and then picks up his pen and fills in: C-O-R-N-F-L-O-W-E-R.

Satisfied, he sits back. Leans forward again to add a pair of fishnet stockings to his impression of Tremellen, and smirks childishly.

When he catches sight of the clock, Harry reluctantly replaces his robes and heads for the door, pausing by the door of Stage One to observe Draco and Carmichael, standing at the end of a young man’s bed. The Healer waves her wand over the patient’s chest and murmurs something to Draco, who nods professionally and writes it down.

Pride stretches Harry’s small smile into a ridiculous grin, and just for a moment, he can’t breathe.

**~*~**

“Merry Christmas, Healer Potter!” calls the sweet old lady in bed twelve, as Harry replaces her chart at the end of her bed and heads for the door.

Harry pauses and meets her twinkling blue eyes. Sighs softly. “Merry Christmas, Mrs Wentworth.”

She smiles roguishly and draws her sheets up beneath her chin; Harry returns her smile and steps somewhat reluctantly out into the corridor. It’s only the third day of December, but already the main wards and corridors of the hospital are awash with festive decorations, some innocuous and some decidedly not.

Though he’s surprised by the sheer scale of red, green and sparkling festivity on display in a place full of sick people, when Harry recalls the annual seasonal frenzy entered into by the Hogwarts faculty, this really does pale by comparison. He enjoys the scent of fresh pine needles, and the twinkling fairies certainly seem to cheer up the patients, but he can do without the constant sound of carols and the dangling baubles that explode and sprinkle glitter into his hair.

That being said, it’s now almost the end of his Friday shift, and he’s managed to stay glitter-free all day so far.

So far, so—

“Bugger.” Harry halts, mid-stride, and shakes himself, spitting out a spray of silver sparkles. “Spoke too soon.”

Soft laughter attracts his attention and when turns, he’s surprised to see that Eloise isn’t laughing at him, but at Terry; he’s standing in a nearby doorway, arms crossed, with a thoroughly disgruntled look on his face.

“What’s the matter?”

Eloise turns as he comes to stand beside her, eyeing his newly-acquired glitter with amusement. “He’s stuck.”

She points, and Harry looks. Notices for the first time, the enchanted mistletoe hanging above the door, effectively trapping the unfortunate Terry until someone takes pity on him and releases him.

Harry grins, forgetting all about the glitter.

“I can’t believe someone was allowed to put this stuff up,” Terry whines. “This is a hospital, for Merlin’s sake!”

“It’s Christmas,” Eloise points out.

“It’s barely December,” Harry counters, not unreasonably.

“Let me go!” Terry takes a petulant step out of the doorway and is immediately pulled back into place.

“Harry, I was thinking...” Cecile appears in the doorway behind Terry, eyes fixed on the chart in her hands. She glances up, taking in the situation. Looks at Terry, looks at the floating bundle above his head, and raises an eyebrow. Shrugging, she leans up on her tiptoes and smacks a brief kiss to his cheek. Terry gapes at her and doesn’t move. “... yeah, I was thinking about your lunch of doom with Mrs Malfoy this Sunday, and I thought, why don’t you take her a—what?”

Harry and Eloise exchange glances and then look back at the scene. Terry, now free, hasn’t stepped out of the doorway and is flushed a horrified pink. He stares down at his small, blonde colleague as if she’s gone stark staring mad.

“Terry, you’re such a prude, fucking hell.” Cecile rolls her eyes.

“Did you just kiss me?”

Cecile steps out of the doorway and points. “Mistletoe. Tradition. Christmas spirit, and all that rot. Chill out. I thought you wanted to be released.”

“I did,” Terry says eventually, stalking over to the nurses’ station and gathering what’s left of his dignity. “Thank you, Cecile. I hate Christmas,” he adds under his breath.

Amused, Harry half-listens to the conversation between his friends and tries not think about what Cecile is insisting on referring to as his lunch of doom in less than two days. She’s been surprisingly helpful (for her) and has provided a whole array of strange little tips about old pureblood families, but is far more amused by the whole thing than is strictly necessary.

Watch out,” someone hisses, and Harry snaps to attention just in time to jump out of the path of the porter with the pink hair as he tries, yet again, to knock Harry accidentally-on-purpose under the mistletoe.

“Careful,” advises Eloise, looking at the disappointed porter. He grins at Harry and takes off down the corridor, box of potions floating and clinking gently behind him as he disappears out of sight.

“I hate Christmas,” Harry echoes. He wonders what Draco would say if he knew about Harry’s newest admirer, but he’s not about to find out.

“No, you don’t,” Eloise says, in what Harry thinks of as her ‘No-nonsense Scary Nurse Voice.’

Harry sighs. “As usual, Eloise, you’re right. I don’t. But if that porter tries to kiss me again, I may hex his bits into a nice sprig of holly.”

“Creative,” Cecile approves.

“Thanks. So what am I taking her? Mrs Malfoy?”

“A gift.” Cecile comes to stand next to Terry, whose face is now his usual shade of pale once more.

“Great, another thing she can mock me about.” Harry scrubs a hand through his hair.

“Do you want my help or not?”

Harry shoves his hands into his robe pockets and looks around at his friends. “I think I need all the help I can get.”

**~*~**

The just-after-midday sun is bright but does nothing to warm Harry as he waits outside the imposing wrought iron gates for Flimby to remotely relax the locking charms and grant him entry. Finally, the gates slide noiselessly open and he steps onto the gravel path, shivering slightly.

Shoving his cold hands into his coat pockets, Harry starts crunching up the drive toward the Manor; the walk takes about ten minutes at his current pace, and he knows it does because he’s done it several times now. Narcissa’s paranoia-strength wards prevent Apparation into any part of the estate from the outside, though one can Apparate once inside the house itself.

Given the option between Flooing in, which he hates, or walking up from the gates, it’s a no brainer. Harry likes to walk, and when he can spare the ten minutes, he does just that. Today especially, he relishes the thinking space. It’s ridiculous, he knows, but the prospect of today’s lunch has him jangling with nerves. It doesn’t matter how casually Draco has tried to frame it, there’s a significant part of Harry that wants Narcissa Malfoy to like him. Just a little bit. And he hates it.

Regardless, the grounds are stunning, even in winter. Harry gulps down clean, cold air and gazes out over lush, manicured lawns, the huge frozen pond and the vast array of ornamental creatures that, Draco maintains, are his mother’s and absolutely nothing to do with him at all.

As he approaches a bend in the path, Harry watches the group of peacocks under a nearby tree and slows almost to a stop. The sun catches their iridescent plumage as they puff up and show off for each other. Harry smiles. There’s something very Malfoy about them, he thinks.

When one breaks away from the group and confidently stalks across the grass toward him, he stays very still. Fascinated, Harry gazes down at the bird at his feet; he’s never seen one so close before and it’s magnificent. Not only that, but it’s the only one brave, curious or stupid enough to approach him.

Harry crouches down and holds his hand out tentatively. The peacock steps closer, looking at him with tiny black eyes, head on one side. Part of the crest of feathers on top of the bird’s head is slightly bent, giving it a somewhat rakish look. Harry is amused.

“Hello, mate,” he says softly. “You’re beautiful.”

The peacock takes another step closer and stares hard at Harry.

“See, it’s alright, I won’t—”

Harry yelps as the sharp beak fastens around his index finger. After biting him to its satisfaction, the peacock turns tail and runs away across the grass. “—hurt you,” Harry finishes, scowling.

After examining the small but stinging wound, Harry decides against healing it for now; he wants to preserve the evidence to show Draco and hopefully guilt-trip the hell out of him. Cheeky bastard peacock. Evil peacock.

Fuming, Harry shoots one last dark look over at the birds and ups his pace, fully intending to have a stern conversation with Draco before lunch starts. The silver lining, if you could really call it one, is that he’s now more indignant than nervous.

He rounds the final bend and spies Draco; he’s standing on the lawn, a good fifty yards from the house, smartly dressed in black and a huge, dark green scarf. Waiting for him, perhaps? Harry wonders, but that’s beside the point.

“Draco Malfoy!” he bellows.

Draco turns quickly as Harry approaches him across the frost-crunchy grass. “What did I do?”

“Why do you assume you’ve done something?” Harry stops in front of him and folds his arms.

“Because you full-named me,” Draco explains, frowning as though it’s obvious. “My mother only full-names me when I’ve done something wrong. Only, she uses my middle name as well.”

“Which is?”

Lifting an eyebrow, Draco smirks. “I’m not going to give you ammunition.”

“Draco...” he wheedles, irritated that he somehow doesn’t know this about his onetime arch-enemy and current lover. It’s outrageous.

“Absolutely not.”

Harry scowls momentarily and then remembers why he was ‘full-naming’ Draco in the first place. Fucking peacock. “Well, in that case... Draco middle name Malfoy—I’ve just been savaged by a... bird of prey?” he hedges, knowing it’s, at best, a slight exaggeration.

“Excuse me?”

Harry holds out his bitten finger for Draco’s perusal; he watches grey eyes narrow in contemplation as Draco takes his cold hand in even colder ones. His mouth twitches as he looks at the tiny wound, and Harry, determined to carry his indignation through to the end, forces a slighted expression.

“That peacock is a savage,” he insists.

“Were you... provoking them?” Draco blinks and Harry knows he’s trying not to smile.

“No!”

Draco ducks for a moment, concealing his mouth behind the protection of his scarf, but his eyes sparkle with humour in the bright sunlight and Harry bites the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing with him.

“Well,” he says, emerging, serious-faced. “Can’t have you bleeding to death, especially when you’ve yet to have lunch with my mother.”

Merlin forbid I miss out on that particular treat, Harry muses, but says nothing and instead watches as Draco stares at his finger, focus written all over his face, and passes his palm over the little wound with a whisper-light touch. There’s a brief cool tingle, and Harry is confused until Draco releases his hand and he sees that the cut is healed.

Gaping, Harry examines the barely-noticeable sheen of pink new skin at close range. Wandless Healing, even something this small, is incredibly difficult to do; it’s not something he does himself, unless he absolutely has no other choice, and he had no idea Draco had any wandless ability at all.

“Fucking hell, Draco, why did you never tell me you could do that?” he demands, though deep down he knows why, even if he doesn’t quite understand. Draco reveals himself as and when he sees fit; Harry just wishes he understood why right now is the time for this particular secret.

Draco adjusts his scarf and shrugs. The sun turns his hair silver as it falls into eyes that are slightly guarded. “It’s the only wandless magic I can do. And only little cuts and things.”

“Even so...” Harry runs his fingers over the healed skin, grinning. “Where did you learn to do that?”

Draco sighs. “Do you really want to know?”

Harry’s grin fades at the implication.

“I learned it because it was necessary. Let’s leave it at that,” Draco says, a tiny pleading note to his voice, and Harry nods, touching Draco’s sleeve pointlessly in his awkwardness.

He doesn’t know how to deal with the impotent rage that surges up in his chest when he imagines what must have happened to Draco during that war to fuel the kind of determination it would have taken, especially in a drug-addled state, to learn something so complex. With it, though, he remembers how strong this man has been, and is, and he forces the fury down until he’s standing on it, driving it into the hard ground.

“Thanks,” Harry adds belatedly, and Draco smiles.

“Maybe I should put up a ‘Beware of the Peacock’ sign,” he muses. “Come on, lunch is in ten minutes.”

**~*~**

Narcissa is already seated at the vast, shiny mahogany table when Harry and Draco enter the dining room, and she does not rise.

“Good afternoon, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry says politely, smiling and trying to remember everything Cecile has told him about what she calls ‘archaic pureblood crap’; he hadn’t felt the need to remind her that she, too, belongs to one of those archaic pureblood families, because she knows that all too well.

“Do sit down, Mr Potter,” she says, and Harry hesitates.

She won’t stand, he reminds himself, but Draco is the head of the household, and he, not she, must tell me to sit. Frustrated, Harry curls the hand behind his back into a fist and bites his tongue. He wonders if it’s a test.

“Have a seat, Harry,” Draco cuts in from behind him, and Harry sits, relieved. When Narcissa turns to address a house-elf, Draco flashes him a small, secret smile; he seems astonished that Harry waited for his word to sit, and Harry revels in his surprise.

He folds his hands in his lap, feeling supremely awkward, and gazes at Narcissa across the table. They sit around one end of the vast table, Draco at the head, close, but not close enough to touch, even under the table. It’s the biggest, fanciest dining room Harry has ever seen, outside of Hogwarts, and he wonders if they eat like this all the time, or just when trying to intimidate guests.

Speaking of which.

Harry inhales the savoury aroma of the food that has begun to materialise before them. “This all looks lovely.” He pauses, trying to get the wording for the next part right in his head. If any of this works, he’s going to buy Cecile a country. “Please allow a token of my appreciation, vegrandis tamen utpote, quod in usitas locum.”

Harry fiddles with his napkin and stares at Mrs Malfoy through the haze of steam rising from a tureen of buttered potatoes. He really hopes he’s said that right; he fucking hates Latin.

Small but sincere, and in the usual place,’ Cecile had explained, whilst pulling a face. ‘You leave it on the hallway table, and a house-elf or servant will take it. No, I don’t know why.’

They’ve gone for wine, in accordance with the ‘weird gift-giving rules of the archaic pureblood handbook according to Cecile Mackenzie’, because new friendships or political alliances require comestible gifts. Harry had been tempted to go for a very elegant set of obsidian napkin rings, but Cecile had very firmly informed him that decorative household items come under ‘familial bonds and alliances’, and they had both agreed that neither he nor Narcissa Malfoy were ready for that.

Across the table, pale blue eyes widen momentarily, and Narcissa freezes, hand halfway to her wineglass. Draco coughs discreetly at Harry’s side, and it takes all of Harry’s resolve not to turn and look at him; he knows that the sight of Harry Potter, half-blood and ruffian, behaving like a proper little pureblood must be highly entertaining for Draco, especially when he wasn’t expecting it.

“Thank you for your kindness, Mr Potter,” Narcissa says eventually, recovering her composure. She lifts her glass and smiles, eyes still cool. “Veneratio et gratia.”

Harry exhales slowly and glances down at the food that a very discreet house-elf seems to have placed on his plate. He looks up at Draco, who’s cutting into a slice of meat and regarding him with a mixture of amusement and admiration in his eyes.

Harry smiles at him and sets to his meal; everything is delicious, though the tension coursing through him prevents him from properly tasting any of it. As Draco engages his mother in conversation, Harry watches, intrigued, as Narcissa slips a discreet hand under the table every now and then, holding out tiny pieces of chicken or duck; he can’t see Zeus but he can hear his claws clacking on the hard floor, and the little bits of meat are always gone when she returns her hand to the table.

Interesting. Narcissa Malfoy feeds her dog-not-dog at the table. In company. Harry files the information away for later use and waits until she’s distracted to dangle a small piece of roast duck by the side of his chair. Seconds later, his hand is being lavishly licked by a warm tongue and the duck is yanked from his fingers. Scratching Zeus’ silky head, Harry relaxes just a little and tunes back into the conversation just in time to hear his name.

“... graduated from the Curatio School, didn’t you, Harry?”

“Er, yes, I did. Just over six months ago, in fact. I was lucky to find a position so quickly afterwards,” Harry says, hurriedly picking up his knife again.

“Indeed. And how are you finding your employ at St Mungo’s?” Narcissa enquires. Her tone is far from warm, but Harry thinks it lacks a little of the edge it had the last time they met; he opts to take that as a good sign.

“It’s hard work but very rewarding.” Harry keeps his voice neutral. It’s all about approval, that’s all. That first, and then you can tell her you’re—what? Sleeping with her only son? Harry smiles carefully. “I enjoy my job very much, Mrs Malfoy.”

“That’s important,” she says. “Though you find some strange things to enjoy, the pair of you. I’m sure Draco has told you about his plans for the east wing of his ancestral home,” she says, thin lip curling slightly with a split-second glance at Draco. Harry stiffens. “Filling it with his waifs and strays. Of course, it’s not my place to stand in his way, though I dare say his father would be spinning in his grave if he knew.”

Narcissa dabs elegantly at her lips with a linen napkin, and Harry can’t help but wonder why she’s telling him all this. Chancing a look at Draco, Harry sees that he hasn’t stopped eating, but is merely watching his mother wearily, as though he’s heard all this before.

“I see,” Harry says, unable to elaborate without arguing with her, which he really doesn’t want to do.

“There is nothing I can say that will dissuade him, Mr Potter. Draco is an obstinate young man.”

You don’t say, Harry agrees silently. Outwardly, he just smiles politely and scrambles frantically for a response. He can’t agree and say, ‘Yes, Mrs Malfoy, your son is a stubborn fuck,’ and he can’t say, ‘Well, actually, I think he’s rather wonderful, actually.’

Cecile didn’t prepare him for this. Desperately, he wonders if there’s any more traditional Latin that will help in this situation.

“Leave Harry alone, Mother,” Draco says at last. “And me,” he adds darkly.

“You needn’t be so sensitive, Draco,” she sniffs.

Draco’s eyes flare with irritation and he hacks at his potato with a little more aggression than necessary. Harry watches him, amusement blooming amongst his anxiety for the tiny display of normal mother-son interaction in the midst of all of their cool, aristocratic posturing. It’s refreshing, and Harry loosens up a fraction more, actually tasting the next few mouthfuls of his lunch.

“Do you live far from here, Mr Potter?”

“Central London. The countryside is beautiful here, though.”

“Would you like some more wine?”

“No thank you, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry replies. As if he needs anything that will lower his inhibitions and make him say something he—

“And how long have you been Draco’s homosexual lover?”

Harry’s fork freezes in mid-air as he turns perfectly still, blood running cold and heart stuttering erratically, then pounding like mad inside his ribcage. Narcissa’s pale eyes are steady and appraising, and he knows that every second of silence is just making it a little bit worse, but he can’t seem to formulate a word of even one syllable.

“Mother, was that entirely necessary?” asks Draco, sounding oddly calm, though Harry can’t tear his eyes away from Narcissa’s to look at him.

“It’s a simple question.”

“It’s not, and you know it.”

Something in Draco’s tone shakes Harry out of his stupor and he swallows hard against his dry mouth. Casts around for his vaunted courage and sits up straight.

“About six weeks, Mrs Malfoy,” he says. Under the table, Zeus pushes a cold nose into his hand, and Harry forces himself to smile at Narcissa.

She lifts an eyebrow, never looking away from Harry. “Is that so?” she murmurs.

The cool eyes give away nothing, but Harry senses her almost imperceptible jolt of discomfort when the hand she discreetly extends under the table meets with nothing but cold air. Harry’s tense fingers tighten around the furry ears that she’s reaching for with a strange little thrill of satisfaction; she’s unnerved, and despite her glacial exterior, Narcissa Malfoy apparently has a tell, just like her son.

And Zeus Malfoy is a dirty little traitor.

Harry drinks deeply from his goblet and nods slowly. He has no idea what to say next, and is palpably relieved when Draco speaks from beside him.

“How long have you known?”

When Narcissa turns to regard her son, the spell is broken, and Harry, too, glances at Draco. He has set down his knife and fork and is carefully smoothing non-existent creases out of his napkin, grey eyes intent.

“I have known about your preferences for quite some time, Draco.”

Draco lifts his chin slightly. “I see.” Harry bites the inside of his mouth, not daring to make a sound.

“As for your... relationship with Mr Potter? I must admit, I had my suspicions when you introduced him as your colleague some weeks ago, but I rather think what solidified that suspicion was the owl I received earlier this week from a somewhat enterprising journalist, soliciting my opinion on the controversial liaison between my son and... how did she put it? Oh, yes. The Hero of the Wizarding World.

Draco’s fingers pause atop his napkin, and his nostrils flare briefly. Harry remains very still, feeling suddenly as though he should be anywhere but here during this conversation, and yet struck by the ever-growing compulsion to stand beside Draco in times of conflict. This, though... this is not conflict as he knows it, this is conflict Malfoy-style: cool, calm and serrated.

As he watches them watch each other with impressively impassive gazes, one blue, one grey, Harry wants to kick himself for not thinking that someone from the press would contact Narcissa, filthy bloodsuckers that they are. Having seen nothing like that, he can only surmise that she declined to comment, and thanks whichever deity might be listening for small graces.

“You didn’t tell me about this, Mother.”

Narcissa almost looks amused. “You didn’t tell me about this, Draco,” she counters, indicating Harry with a dismissive hand that almost prompts Harry to protest, ‘Hey, I’m still here! And I’m not a this.’

“True,” says Draco, still sounding a lot calmer than Harry feels. “But I was planning to.”

“Is that so? And you did not imagine that repeatedly inviting Mr Potter here would arouse my suspicions?” The blue eyes glint, but from where Harry is sitting, she looks, oddly, more curious than angry.

Breath shallow with the hum of unrelenting, low-level tension, Harry focuses on the rhythmic thump of Zeus’ tails against his shin and glances silently between mother and son with morbid fascination. Were it his conversation, there’d be none of this control; he wouldn’t be able to stop himself seeking out the reassurance that this was alright, the ‘Is this weird for you’-s and the ‘I want you to understand’-s tripping over each other to fly out of his mouth. Not here, though.

“I imagined,” says Draco, “that you would understand that Harry and I had a working relationship, and that eventually, the rest would follow. I also imagined—no, strike that, I hoped, that you would be able to look beyond the events of the past.”

Draco’s voice is positively icy now, and Harry can’t help his eyebrows shooting upward at the implication; he feels the power-shift in the room as though someone has pulled the carpet from under his feet, and it’s both impressive and unsettling all at once.

Narcissa folds her hands on the table top with quiet deliberation; Harry notices for the first time that she doesn’t wear a wedding ring any more. When she speaks, it’s as though through gritted teeth.

“My concern is not based upon those events,” she says, and Harry finds himself wishing she’d just say ‘the war’ and have done with it. Some people still won’t say ‘Voldemort’, even now, and it drives him mad. Draco’s eyes flicker doubtfully, and his mother sighs. “Truly, Draco.”

And for some reason, Harry believes her. She doesn’t like him, he can tell that much, and right now the feeling is entirely mutual, but he believes her. Zeus licks his hand.

What’s your problem, then? Harry asks silently. Or perhaps, ‘Then, upon what is it based?’ Idly, he wonders if this is how they speak to each other all the time, or just when they have company, because it’s hurting his head and he’s not even part of the conversation.

Pureblood crap,’ supplies his inner Cecile helpfully, and he speculates on when exactly she became one of the voices in his head.

Unfortunately, he’s so distracted by his own thoughts, that he misses what Draco says next. His stare is challenging, though, and Narcissa’s expression is what can only be described as exasperated.

“I did see the newspaper, Draco. Ms Skeeter most helpfully furnished me with a copy when I replied to her letter asking what in Merlin’s name she was talking about.”

Harry groans softly—fucking Skeeter, he should’ve known—and both Malfoys turn to look at him askance. He smiles nervously, resists the urge to affect a little wave and remind them that he’s still here, and then looks away, delighted when Flimby appears as if from nowhere and refills his goblet.

“Thanks,” he whispers, and the house-elf’s huge eyes shine.

“You is being very welcome, Harry Potter, Sir,” he returns, also in a deferent whisper.

“... and certainly, but you must see that this isn’t a good idea. Politically, socially... logically.” Narcissa pauses, and looks almost appealingly at her son. Harry takes in the set of Draco’s jaw and itches to reach for him, but he’s too far away, and besides, he doesn’t think he’d dare. “Draco, while I do not presume to tell you what to do, I refuse to lie to you—this is a bad match.”

A bad match? Harry inhales sharply and looks down at his plate, attempting to ignore the odd sensation washing around in his stomach.

“That was most enlightening, Mother,” Draco says tightly. “Thank you. Your concerns are misplaced, however. I doubt there is anything Harry can do that will further damage my political or social standing. Also, I think this discussion is making him uncomfortable.”

Head jerking up, Harry’s eyes fly to meet Draco’s. Seeing the warmth and the apology there, he’s relieved, having seen nothing but cool, steely challenge since lunch began.

“I’m not uncomfortable,” he lies smoothly. “And I, er, appreciate your concerns, Mrs Malfoy.”

Narcissa turns to him. Harry releases Zeus and he sees the exact moment he returns to his mistress’ side from the almost-smile that slides across her face.

“Forgive me, Mr Potter. You must think me terribly rude.”

Harry waits, holding the ice-blue gaze, for her to say something else. An apology, perhaps, or an explanation, but neither is forthcoming. Instead, Narcissa merely sets her napkin down on the table, nods graciously to both of them and rises.

“Mother,” Draco intones, nodding reluctantly.

“Excuse me.” She clicks her fingers and Zeus scrambles to follow her. “Draco. Mr Potter.”

Baffled, Harry watches her leave the dining room. As soon as the heavy door closes behind her, he feels as though he can breathe again. The tension of possibly the most uncomfortable lunch he has ever suffered through seeps out of him as he exhales noisily and drops his head into his hands.

The touch on his shoulder startles him, and he looks up to find Draco standing next to his chair.

“Hmm?” says Harry intelligently.

“Come on,” Draco insists, pulling him to his feet. “I want to show you something.”

**~*~**

Harry follows Draco along corridor after corridor in complete silence, the only sound coming first from their soft footsteps on the luxurious carpets and then from the sharp, echoing ones as they traverse the grand, marble-floored entrance hall. Eventually, Draco flings open a set of heavy, oak double doors and they step out into a huge, empty, light-flooded space.

Closing the doors behind them, Draco steps out into the room and looks around with satisfaction. Something breaks inside Harry, and he leans against the nearest wall and rubs his eyes. He has no idea where he is or what Draco’s up to, but he needs to vent. Immediately.

“That was the most embarrassing lunch I have ever had. Ever. Oh, god.”

Draco turns and regards him carefully. “She was a bit upset, wasn’t she?” he concedes thoughtfully.

Harry isn’t quite sure what to say to that; he can’t quite decide if it’s a massive exaggeration or a massive understatement to say Narcissa was ‘a bit upset’—the woman is near-impossible to read.

“She seemed very, erm... cool?” Harry scrubs through his hair distractedly. “I don’t know.”

Draco’s eyes narrow suddenly. “Not everyone has to scream and curse like a demented harridan, you know.” He crosses his arms across his chest, defensive. “My mother is a class act.”

Harry glares. Draco’s flare of familial defensiveness is contagious, and though he doesn’t know where it’s come from, he knows exactly what’s being implied about his adopted family. “Don’t you dare.”

“What?” Draco scowls.

“Don’t you dare say whatever it is you’re implying about Molly, you absolute fucking snob.”

“Class has nothing to do with money, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Draco shoots back, eyes flashing.

“Oh, don’t I know it.” Harry folds his arms too, and steps away from the wall. Though part of him knows that it’s just the tension from the meal spilling over and making them lash out at each other, he can’t seem to rein it in.

Draco snorts derisively. “Of course you do. After all, you’re an expert on pureblood traditions, aren’t you? You certainly kept that quiet.” There’s a flash of offence in the grey eyes, and Harry feels something twinge inside his chest.

“I learned that for you, you bloody prick,” Harry says hotly. “You think stuff like that’s important to me? No. But it’s important to your mother, and she’s important to you—are you not getting how this works yet?”

Breathing hard, Harry matches Draco’s hard expression with one of his own; standing just feet apart in the huge, empty room, the tension tastes sharp in the stale, unused air.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about how I don’t fucking understand quite what happened at that table, and I might never understand your Malfoy Stuff, but Merlin help me, I want your mother to like me,” he admits, all in a rush, feeling his face heat.

Draco says nothing, but his eyes soften and his fingers relax minutely in their death-grips on his upper arms. He takes a tentative step closer to Harry. “OK. I’m—alright.” His voice is gentler now. “I didn’t think she’d just come out with it like that, you know.”

“Well, I—what?!” Harry demands, registering the meaning behind the words.

Draco inhales and exhales slowly before he answers. “I didn’t think she’d just ask you like that.”

“You knew that she knew?” Harry shakes his head, stung. “All this time?”

“I didn’t know. I suspected. But not ‘all this time’, no, only for a couple of days,” Draco says, dropping his eyes to the floor.

“A couple of days? Draco, we spent half the day together yesterday and you said nothing at all! You just let me come here knowing that your mother might put me on the spot like that, and you said nothing?”

Harry shoves one hand into his trouser pocket and lifts the other to rake heatedly through his hair. He can’t help but feel he should be livid right now, but all he feels is hurt, and he hates himself for it.

“It wasn’t a lie, exactly...” Draco doesn’t look up, and his hair falls into his eyes, obscuring his expression.

“That’s not what I said. But since you mention it, a lie of omission is still a lie as far as I’m concerned, Draco.”

Harry drops his hands to his sides and stares at the expanse of cream-coloured wall behind Draco; his blood is rushing in his veins and there’s a stupid tightness in his chest that he’s trying to ignore, because why does it matter so much? And can he hear himself?

Yep. A lie of omission is still a lie, Draco. He doesn’t say things like that. He sounds like a complete—

“I didn’t think you’d come if you knew,” Draco says suddenly, and his voice sounds so strange that Harry’s eyes immediately snap to his as he looks up. The flash of spiky vulnerability pokes at the new sore spot inside Harry’s chest and he bites his lip hard.

“Would it have killed you to be honest with me and find out?”

“Maybe,” Draco mutters, twitching a half-smile.

In spite of himself, Harry laughs and the vibration makes his chest ache. After a moment, Draco laughs, too, and the tension shatters around them. Harry collapses back against the wall and holds a hand out; Draco is pressed against him within seconds, fingers laced through his and warm mouth pressed against Harry’s neck.

“Wow. I really am useless at this,” he mumbles, sounding so surprised that Harry wants to laugh, but he knows better than that. He also knows better than to expect an apology, even though he probably deserves one.

“This being?” he prods gently, sliding his hands under the back of Draco’s dress shirt.

Draco pulls away from his neck and meets his eyes. To Harry’s surprise and quiet delight, he flushes faintly, and slightly damp fingers tighten around Harry’s. “Don’t make me say it.”

Intrigued, Harry smiles and rests his head back against the wall. “Say what?”

“Relationship... stuff,” Draco mutters, squirming lightly.

“I see,” Harry replies, unable to stop his smile stretching into a grin—whether at Draco’s discomfort or the words themselves, it’s hard to say, but he doesn’t suppose it matters.

“Good. Now be quiet,” Draco instructs, kissing him soundly and cutting off any further comment.

And though Harry usually hates being told what to do, in this instance, he thinks maybe he can learn to live with it. It might be the kiss, it might be the sudden warm press of Draco’s arousal against his hip, or it might be the words mumbled against his lips that are so soft, he knows Draco would deny them even under torture.

I’m sorry.”

Chapter Text

It is only Harry’s last, weak vestiges of propriety that allow him to push Draco’s fingers away from his fly and to pull away from a deep, searching kiss that has him almost melting into the wall behind him. After all, they’re still in the Manor and Narcissa Malfoy is floating around somewhere, traitorous not-dog at her heels, armed with the knowledge that he and Draco are lovers.

And yep, that’s actually enough to dampen Harry’s desire quite effectively for the time being; he’ll have to remember that one.

Draco makes a small sound of complaint but steps back anyway, eyes darkened and hair ruffled.

Harry sighs. “Not here, alright? I really could do without another lecture from your mother this afternoon.”

“She wasn’t lecturing you,” Draco points out. “She was lecturing me. But I see your point, and anyway—” He smiles brightly and casually finger-combs his pale hair back into place with a practised ease that amuses Harry. “—look. What do you think?”

Harry frowns. “Of your hair?”

Draco snorts. “No.” Grabbing Harry’s hands once more, he drags him into the centre of the room and circles to stand behind him, resting his chin on Harry’s shoulder, pressing himself tightly, securely against Harry’s back. He gestures expansively with their joined hands. “This. The East Wing—or a bit of it, at least.”

Understanding, finally, Harry leans slightly back against him and surveys the light, clean space. This one room is probably the size of Stage One, the group room, and the main lounge of Chem Dep combined; the ceilings are higher, too, and the windows reach almost from floor to ceiling, allowing vast amounts of afternoon sun into the room.

It looks like it hasn’t been used for some time, and Harry wonders what this room used to be. Perhaps a ballroom, or a very fancy parlour; the floor is polished and shiny underfoot, and there is no furniture to be seen.

Draco nudges Harry’s shoulder with his chin. “Well?”

“I think it’s fucking massive,” Harry says, going with honesty.

Draco laughs against his neck. “Well, yes. There is that. I was thinking of this as a sort of communal living space—” He picks up Harry’s hand again and gestures toward various points in the room as he speaks. “—a big table there, and another... armchairs and suchlike around that fireplace... one of those wonky sofa things next to that one... rugs, we must have rugs—this floor gets awfully cold...”

Harry listens to the warm, almost-excited voice next to his ear and smiles lazily, allowing Draco to direct his attention, and his hand, all around the room, as they stand there and imagine where everything might go. Warmed by the trust and the near-childlike enthusiasm on display, Harry can’t help but contrast this Draco with the cool young man who had entered so calmly into a power-play with his own mother at the dinner table.

“This is just one room,” Draco is saying, arms around his waist. “Come and look at the others.”

Harry wonders if he’s the only one who gets to see this. Selfishly, he hopes so.

**~*~**

Some hours later, as they lie sweaty and tangled together in Harry’s bed at Grimmauld Place, Harry’s thoughts drift, floaty and nebulous, back to Draco’s grand tour of the Manor’s East Wing.

Despite Draco’s earlier insistence that setting up his own centre was no more than a pipe dream, he has obviously given the idea some thought.

‘I want two group rooms,’ he’d said. ‘Think of all the different groups we could do, with more members of staff... and these bedrooms are big enough for three or four patients each. And look at the light in here,’ he’d enthused, pulling Harry into a large, square, sun-drenched room with two full walls of windows. ‘I thought dining room, maybe, but... what do you think?’

Harry is still surprised now to have had his opinion solicited on such matters, but he’d offered it anyway, not minding when Draco had sometimes laughed, and minding even less when they had to stop to kiss unhurriedly inside each new room.

By the end of the afternoon, the lunchtime ordeal had been a distant memory, or at least one that Harry plans to deal with some other time. Perhaps when he can wheedle some more helpful information out of Cecile. After all, Narcissa has been cold, distant, and disapproving, but Harry suspects that she’s not entirely beyond reach, if only he can be stubborn enough. And, let’s face it, lack of stubbornness has never been his problem.

“It’s Abraxas,” Draco says, apropos of nothing. “After my grandfather.”

“Hmm?” Harry opens one eye, semi-focusing on Draco’s hand in his hair.

“My middle name. It’s Abraxas.”

Harry lifts his head slowly to gaze into sleepy grey eyes. “I thought you weren’t going to tell me.”

Shrugging gently, Draco smiles with one corner of his mouth. “I weighed it up. Being addressed as Draco middle name Malfoy is just weird.”

“Aren’t our parents imaginative?” Harry muses. “Mine’s after my dad.”

“It’s tradition, isn’t it.” Draco flattens Harry’s fringe against his forehead speculatively. “Especially in pureblood families.”

“Hmph.” Harry rests his head once more, pressing a slack mouth to Draco’s chest. He sighs with muted pleasure: warm-damp-salty-sharp... nice.

“Could be worse. You could be my friend Mephisto,” Draco offers.

Harry snorts. “Mephisto is a ridiculous name.”

A soft sound of amusement floats down from above his head. “It’s not the Mephisto part that I meant, but good, I’ll be sure to pass that on to him. In his family, the second-born child always gets the mother’s first name as their middle name. Real old Wizarding family, that one.”

Harry looks up again, intrigued. “And what’s his mother’s name?”

Draco smirks. “Florence.”

Grinning, Harry flops back down and closes his eyes. “That’s fantastic.”

“Mephisto Florence Marley,” Draco sighs. “I should owl him, actually.”

Harry yawns and stretches. “You do that.”

**~*~**

The next day, Harry decides to brave the canteen at lunchtime, and though the staring has abated somewhat, he’s still extremely grateful that all three of his friends are able to take their breaks at the same time.

The morning has been insanely busy, as most Monday mornings are; for some reason, many witches and wizards are loath to admit themselves to St Mungo’s on a Saturday or Sunday, and opt to suffer through the weekend and turn up first thing Monday morning, often significantly unhealthier as a result than they would have been.

If Harry had a Sickle for every time he’s heard: ‘Oh, but I didn’t want to bother the Healers at the weekend,’ he’d be... well, he’d be an even richer man than he already is.

The upshot being, anyway, that he hasn’t had time to discuss the lunch of doom with anyone yet. Cecile, in particular, is practically foaming at the mouth waiting to hear about it.

“So, what happened?” she demands over her coffee cup. “Start to finish.”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “Well... Draco’s peacock bit me,” he offers.

“Is that a euphemism?” Cecile wants to know.

“If it is, please don’t feel the need to share,” Terry puts in, grimacing.

“Speak for yourself, Terry, I want to know!” hisses Eloise, her tea-bag dunking speeding up to a frightening rate.

“Me too,” adds Cecile, smirking.

No,” Harry says, shaking his head vehemently. “A peacock, belonging to Draco, savaged me. Randomly. Literally. And it only went downhill from there. Although—” Harry pauses, half a second from launching into a proud recount of Draco’s Healing talents, recalling his haunted expression when Harry had asked about it.

“Although what?”

Harry blinks. “Although, er, the dog likes me,” he improvises with a quick smile. “Which is a start.”

Cecile snorts. “Did you do the Latin properly?” Harry shoots her a wounded look through his coffee-steam, and she pulls a face, holding up her hands. “No, really... because honestly, my cousin Felicity got just one word wrong once, and ended up telling some French Lord that she couldn’t wait to see his very gracious and stately penis.”

Setting his cup down, Harry leans back in his chair and shakes his head. He grins and assures Cecile, over the juvenile and appreciative titters of laughter around the table, that if nothing else, he certainly didn’t speak a word about Narcissa Malfoy’s genitalia. Accidentally or otherwise.

Once again grateful for these interludes in the drama life seems to have planned for him, Harry waits for Terry and Eloise to regain their composure before filling them in on the events of the previous day. By the time he’s done, his coffee has gone cold and the Warming Charm he aims at it leaves it with a very odd taste indeed; still, caffeine is caffeine.

“Strange lady,” Cecile assesses, trying to lick a dab of milk foam from the tip of her own nose. Eventually, she gives up, looking slightly cross-eyed. “Cold as fuck, from what I’ve heard. But at least it’s just her; Lucius Malfoy was a total psychopath. Was being the operative word.”

Harry grants her a wry smile. “Where would I be without your sunny optimism, Cecile?”

“Goodness, I don’t know... sinking in a pit of your own misery?” She smiles and eyes Harry’s plate hopefully. “Are you going to finish those—”

“—be my guest.” Harry scrapes his last few (cold) sauté potatoes onto her plate.

“So, do you have a cunning plan?” asks Terry with a small smile.

Harry laughs. “I wouldn’t go that far just yet, but right now, I still reckon she’s win-over-able. I’m thinking a combination of pureblood tradition and good old fashioned stubbornness.”

“Sounds good to me,” says Eloise, leaning to pick from Cecile’s plate, an odd little smirk tugging at her lips. “She’ll be a proud mother-in-law in no time.”


Harry pales, and his friends laugh. Hard.

**~*~**

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those breaks and lunches become ever more important as December progresses; the closer and closer it gets to the 20th—Stage Two’s official last day—the more agitated Draco becomes, and much as Harry cares for him, he’s becoming difficult to be around.

It wouldn’t be so bad if he would just come out and say, ‘I’m sad,’ or ‘This is hurting me,’ or even, ‘I’m fucking livid with those fucking board bastards,’ like he did so easily only weeks ago. But he won’t, and as the festive preparations step up outside Chem Dep, inside it, Draco Malfoy chokes on his distress until it is obvious to no one but Harry.

Groups run as normal, the insane volunteers turn up as they always have, and Harry attempts to time his visits to avoid having to speak to the ones that frighten him, as he learned to do some time ago.

In a final gesture of defiance to the board, Draco has chosen to accept patients into Stage Two right up until the ten day mark. When Harry asks why, out of idle curiosity, he gets an hour-long lecture on his living room floor, Draco sitting cross-legged on the hearth rug and gesturing wildly, as though to conjure a living representation of the statistics out of the air for Harry to touch. Harry now fully understands the fine balance between potential harm/benefit relating to extremely short term therapy, and though Draco makes his head hurt sometimes, the passion he has for his subject is reassuring.

As the ten-day threshold comes and goes, the Stage Two population dwindles, and it’s almost painful to see. In between groups, when Harry sneaks up to Chem Dep, he watches Draco as he paces and thinks and writes and writes and writes, furiously referring unlucky patients to counsellors, drop-in centres, and—in desperation—Muggle rehab centres.

The Chromia Detox trials are drawing to a close, and from what Harry can see, Draco and Shelagh’s current task involves collating and poring over the resulting deluge of information, in order to shape it into a report that the Ministry can understand.

Harry’s workload downstairs seems to have doubled in the run-up to Christmas, as Eloise had warned them all it would, and it seems, cruelly, that as Draco needs him more and more, Harry’s free time is becoming less and less. The moments they spend together inside the walls of Harry’s house are calm, solid anchors; they are time to renew and revive and forget, but as soon as they are back at work, Harry can see and feel the distress in his partner’s pale eyes, and it lies heavily upon him.

He offers help, even though he doesn’t really have the time, and Draco shakes his head, smiles tightly, and refuses it, even though he’s exhausted.

Comfortingly, though, Draco’s planning for his Not-Malfoy Manor Chem Dep is picking up speed; in between groups and chats and trials and referrals and kisses and pretending he doesn’t care what the Prophet is writing about him, Draco is sketching out a programme, mulling over a staff team and writing frenzied letters back and forth with Hermione about Ministry funding schemes.

Harry leans back in his usual chair in the office, early on the last Friday morning Stage Two will exist. He has finished his espresso and is idly flicking his wand to make the empty paper cup spin around above his head. Draco is scribbling rapidly in one of his countless leather bound notebooks, the one on which Harry has scrawled: ‘Not Malfoy Manor Chem Dep and Taking Over the World—by Draco. A. Malfoy’ in silver ink.

He stops, shaking the kinks out of his wrist, and sips from the coffee Harry has brought him.

“Coconut.” Draco licks at his bottom lip and Harry follows the movement with his eyes. “Cherry? No, almond. No... cherry.”

Harry laughs.

“Almond?” Draco sniffs at the cup, brow furrowed.

“Both, actually,” Harry admits, and Draco rolls his eyes. Picks up his quill again.

Silence fills the office for a good few minutes as Draco continues to write and Harry continues to watch him, but it’s not their usual comfortable silence, and it’s not the tense, brooding silence that has exuded from Draco over the past couple of weeks. It’s an ‘I want to ask you something’ silence, and Harry is intrigued. It’s in the lip-chewing and the hair swiping and the restless little sighs released into the air.

Just as Harry’s about to break and demand, “What?” Draco looks up, grey eyes uncertain but alight with a hope that floods Harry with relief.

“Do you think... do you think Ginevra would like to work for me? Full-time, I mean. Paid. Do you think she’d like to be a group leader?”

Harry smiles and lets the cup float back down to the desk. Granted, he hasn’t talked to Ginny, but he doesn’t need to. She wanted meaning, didn’t she, and she does seem to have an odd sort of affection for Draco, while standing up to him with admirable ease.

Draco continues to stare at him anxiously from across the desk, and Harry suddenly understands how important his answer is. He nods vigorously. “Yes. I think Ginny would love that, actually,” he says.

Draco’s smile is instantly rewarding. He drops his quill and pushes the ‘Taking Over the World’ book toward Harry, folding his arms on the desktop. “That’s it, then. That’s my team.”

Leaning closer, Harry turns the book the right way up and gazes at the right-hand page, covered in question marks and crossings-out, and finally at a small inked box with ‘Draco Malfoy’ written at the top. Harry’s own initials sit just to the left, in neat block capitals, and he suppresses a soft laugh.

Underneath that:

Annette Reynard (a.k.a Scary Craft Lady)

Mephisto Marley

Fyzal Caruso

Ginevra Weasley


Harry lifts an eyebrow and looks up from the pages at Draco. “It’s going to be interesting.”

“If I can help it,” Draco assures, folding his arms and smirking.

**~*~**

Ginny and Draco are already well into their handover by the time Harry walks into Chem Dep on December 16th—the last Stage Two Saturday. After his usual night out with Ron and a bizarrely pink-haired Hermione, Harry had slept fitfully and alone.

He had risen early and, on impulse, ventured into Diagon Alley instead of his usual Muggle coffee shop, and now really wishes he hadn’t bothered. The public, it seems, are still some way from acceptance when it comes to him and Draco. Sighing heavily, Harry tightens his grip on the shiny take-away bag and pushes at the office door. It creaks on its hinges and both occupants of the room look up in surprise.

“Harry!” Ginny smiles and waves her pen in greeting from her seat near the door.

“Morning.” Harry hands her a warm paper cup containing the vile green tea he knows she likes. “And for you...” He sets another cup on the desk in front of Draco, takes the last one for himself and banishes the bag with a lazy flick of the wrist.

“Ooh, thanks,” Ginny enthuses, sniffing at her tea and scraping her long, heavy hair over one shoulder and out of the way.

Amused, Harry leans on the bookcase and regards Draco, who has yet to say a word and is now staring back at him with a barely-there expression that prickles under Harry’s skin. The primary emotion is something akin to relief, and though Draco’s clearly battling to control it, his mouth is tugged into a tiny, reluctant smile.

Relief surges through Harry’s veins as he returns it with a raised eyebrow; Saturday mornings are Draco and Ginny’s thing, he accepts that and has his own routine, but this one is different. He had debated it with himself and his kitchen for some time before deciding to join them for one last time, hoping that Draco would see it as a gesture of support rather than an intrusion.

They’re still exchanging a long, searching glance when Ginny’s dry snort breaks the silence.

“Bloody hell,” she says. “When you’ve quite finished... I’m still here, you know.”

Embarrassed, Harry turns to her just in time to catch her entertained smirk over the top of her cup. The truth is, he had forgotten all about her, just for a moment.

“I didn’t know you were coming today,” Draco says airily, faintly flushed and avoiding Ginny’s eyes.

“I know. I just wanted to be here, and it’s...” He pauses and shrugs, not wanting to say, ‘it’s the last Saturday’ but the implication hangs plainly in the air.

Draco nods slowly and picks up his cup. “Thank you.”

The set of his eyes tells Harry the gratitude isn’t for the coffee, and he knows he’s done the right thing in coming here.

“It’s alright.” Harry sips his scalding-hot coffee and doesn’t break eye contact even for a second.

Ginny groans and drops her notebook onto the desk with an audible bang. “Seriously. Are you like this all the time? How do you ever get anything done?”

Harry laughs and looks at the floor. He doesn’t really have an answer for that, at least, not one that he feels like sharing with Ginny. Still, the atmosphere in the office has lightened and he’s grateful.

“Ginevra and I were just discussing potential staff members for the new venture,” Draco says carefully, and Harry turns to him, the question on his lips quickly silenced by a meaningful flicker of the grey eyes. He hasn’t asked her yet.

Harry bites his lip, keeping his expression neutral. “Is that so?” he asks, and immediately thinks of Narcissa. That can’t be good.

Draco smirks, and Harry wonders if he’s thinking of the same thing. “She seems to think my choices are lacking somehow, though I don’t know why that surprises me.”

Setting her tea down on the desk, Ginny rolls her eyes at Draco and turns long-suffering eyes to Harry. “What Draco means is that I made some suggestions, and as usual, he can’t stand anyone disagreeing with him.” She smiles wryly.

A strange little jag of anticipation strikes Harry as he stands there, happily complicit in the little game Draco is playing, reminded firmly that though today is part of an end, it is also part of a beginning—a really exciting beginning.

“What suggestions were those, Gin?”

“Well, for one, you’re going to have your work cut out if you employ Fyzal. He’s a challenge all of his own, and he’s not long out of this place himself.”

Harry doesn’t have chance to reply before Draco jumps in. “Fyz is a natural leader. I know he’s just finished treatment, but I want a bit of that. Mephisto and I remember, but it’s been five years. It’s not as though you forget, not really, but I want someone who has that desperation fresh in their mind.” Draco pauses and glances at Harry. “And he’s clever in that... Granger-crossed-with-a-Slytherin kind of way.”

The idea tickles Harry and he bites his lip to hide a smile, instead nodding sagely and revelling in Ginny’s sigh of frustration.

“Yeah, well, whatever. Granted, I haven’t met Mephisto but I know he’s your old rehab buddy and if he’s anything like you and Fyzal, well.” Ginny sniffs and shifts in her chair. “And for another thing, I can’t believe you’re not going to have a female group leader. Someone needs to keep you all in line, and no, that insane basket-weaver does not count, before you say anything.”

“Insane basket weaver?” Harry lifts his cup to his mouth to cover a smirk.

“Well, she is,” Ginny says crossly, and Harry wonders if she really thinks Draco would have completely ignored her when making his selections; apparently, she does.

Harry looks significantly at Draco, unsure of his part in this little scene but more than willing to improvise. “She’s got a good point, don’t you think?”

Draco’s mouth twists in consideration. He examines his nails and exhales slowly and turns a full rotation in his chair. Finally, he leans back, folds his arms, crosses one leg over the other and turns to Ginny, pale eyes grave.

“Alright, Ginevra. You make a good case.” Draco’s slow smile is warm. “Welcome to the team.”

For a moment, there is silence. Ginny’s ragged “Excuse me?!” breaks it and Harry grins.

“I’m offering you a job,” Draco rephrases with a staggering amount of nonchalance.

“You’re kidding me.” Ginny shakes her head and wraps both pale hands around the edge of Draco’s desk.

“I’m not, but if you don’t want it...”

“Shut up, you great bastard, of course I want it!” she explodes, glaring at him over the desk.

“Only if you’re sure, Ginevra, I shan’t force you.” Draco’s eyes glow with good humour that spreads out and warms Harry all over.

“Like you said, they’ll need someone to keep them in line, right, Gin?” he puts in.

She turns to him, blue eyes wide, and her sudden comprehension is totally gratifying. Within seconds, she’s out of her chair and glancing between them, hands on hips.

“You both... all along... Merlin, I’m such an idiot.” Laughing whilst still trying to look disapproving, she grabs and squeezes Harry’s hand briefly and then envelops a bewildered Draco in a one-armed hug. “And you’re horrible, the pair of you. Sickening, and horrible, and mflnph,” she mumbles into Draco’s sweater.

Draco’s eyes widen in mild alarm as he looks at Harry over the top of the auburn head, and returns Ginny’s hug delicately, as though he’s afraid he might break her. Still, Harry reflects, hiding his amusement, he’s getting better at it. Hug desensitization.

Silently, Harry adds another moment to his gallery of surreal, and drains his coffee.

“That’s a yes, then?”

“Yes, that’s a yes,” Ginny says, extricating herself, much to Draco’s obvious relief. Once again, he’s reminded, with some satisfaction, that he’s practically the only person that Draco doesn’t mind touching.

“Group?” Harry suggests, gazing at Draco’s wall clock and the three hands which all point in the same direction.

“I’ll go and get set up,” Ginny offers, picking up her tea and her notebook and striding out of the office, leaving Harry and Draco alone.

“Told you she’d say yes,” Harry says, pulling Draco to his feet and kissing the corner of his mouth, resting a proprietary hand on his hip.

“You say a lot of things,” Draco argues, catching Harry’s mouth in a hot, breathless kiss that tastes like coffee, cardamom and ginger. It’s disgusting, but it’s his own fault, and he kisses Draco anyway without a word.

**~*~**

Harry hasn’t sat in on a group since the last one of his Chem Dep rotation, and it’s a strange feeling to be back in one, even if it is one of the relaxed weekend groups that Ginny favours. Draco stays, as Harry had instinctively known he would, and he observes with interest the delight on the remaining patients’ faces as they realise their leader isn’t rushing out the door before ten o’clock like he usually does at the weekends.

With five days to go, only six patients remain in Stage Two. The lounge seems huge and empty as the nine of them sit in an uneven circle on the floor by the fireplace, passing around the stone and sharing their plans, hopes and goals for the weekend. Harry watches proceedings from his spot on the edge of the hearth rug, between Draco and a confident blonde girl named Gretchen.

The sentiments shared by the patients are much the same as they usually are, but he doesn’t think he’s imagining the fact that everyone in the circle seems to be speaking for a little longer than they really want to, in a vain attempt to disguise the fact that their group is so small.

Draco is the last to speak, and his fingers are warm and dry against Harry’s as Harry passes the shiny pebble to him. He shifts on the floor, brushing a denim-clad knee alongside Harry’s, pushes his sleeves up around his elbows and sits there for long seconds, eyes downcast and sliding over his own wrists, forearms, the dark pebble stark against the skin of his palm, long pale fingers wrapping tightly around it like a lifeline.

It’s incredibly rare that Draco’s lost for words, and Harry holds his breath. It’s not even as though this is the last group, but there’s a choking sense of finality about it all the same. Harry’s eyes bore into the side of his silent partner’s head as he struggles to call up the optimism of the office just minutes before.

“Draco?” Gretchen enquires, leaning around Harry, dark eyes bright with concern and curiosity.

Abruptly, Draco jerks his head up and sends his patient a cool, reassuring nod.

“I’m fine, Gretchen.” He looks resolutely around the room; Harry pulls the ends of his sleeves down over his hands and drops them into his lap so that he doesn’t reach out and touch Draco.

Resting his elbows on his knees, Draco draws a shaky breath inward and gazes across the lounge at his wall display. “My story is mine to tell,” he reads—translates—with a small smile. “Almost five years ago, I sat in a group a little bit like this one for the first time. It was bigger, noisier, and I would never have told anyone, on pain of an Unforgivable, but I was afraid. I was afraid of life.”

Harry swallows dryly and watches the patients watch Draco with wide eyes in the pin-drop silence of the room.

“I won’t sit here and tell you my story, because you already know it, and because this isn’t about me, not really. What I will tell you, though, is that I learned more in four weeks here than I’d allowed myself to learn in the first eighteen years of my life. About change, and acceptance, and taking responsibility, and making choices.”

Draco grips the stone hard and his eyes flick to Harry’s for a fraction of a second.

“I’m sorry that recent... events mean that some of you won’t get as much time here as you should. But know this—the learning doesn’t stop when you are no longer a patient here. Believe me. The real world has many lessons to offer... some harsh and others... surprising,” Draco says softly, eyes once more flicking to Harry’s and making his heart swoop. “Mistakes, whilst often costly, aren’t always forever, and learning to let go is one of the hardest and most important things you can do.”

Draco turns his hand to examine the stone, and Harry suspects his aren’t the only eyes that drop to the faded black lines on his skin. Beside Harry, Gretchen stares and chews her nails, and across the circle, two usually-restless young men look on, absolutely still.

“A wise man once said to me: ‘You are who you have it with.’ No one can choose for you after you leave here, and the people you surround yourself with will be the difference between whether you make it or not. What you think you want and what you need are usually two different things. Listen to the little voice in your head that’s saying things you don’t really want to hear. Accept that sometimes, you’re wrong. Trust... in moderation.” Draco smiles briefly and looks down at the floor. “To trust few is wise, but to trust no one is just paranoid.”

A soft little ripple of laughter echoes around the circle and Harry takes advantage of the distraction to nudge Draco’s knee with his, recognising the statement as his, and trying in vain not to imagine just what they’d been doing when he said it.

“Plagiarist,” he whispers, ducking his head, and Draco’s eyebrow twitches upward in amusement.

“Anyway, that’s enough advice for now, I’m sure,” Draco says quickly, and makes to stand up before Ginny holds out a hand and stops him. He looks at her quizzically, halfway into a crouch, one hand on the floor.

“Not that we don’t appreciate your contribution, Draco, because we do, but you haven’t told us how you’re feeling and what your aim is for the weekend.”

Harry glances between Ginny and Draco with interest, and he’s not the only one. The patients have snapped out of their rapt reverence and are staring openly at the mini stand-off between their two group leaders. After a moment, Draco sighs and lowers himself back to the floor, drawing his knees up and folding his arms on top.

“Alright.” Noticing one of the patients shivering, Harry mumbles an incantation to make the fire roar in the grate as Draco is thinking. Eventually, he answers Ginny’s question, brow furrowed with the effort of discussing his feelings. “I feel frustrated. And... sad. And privileged, to be here. This weekend, I aim to do some renovating at home, and to spend some time with my—with a... my—”

“—with him?” Gretchen supplies, removing a ragged-nailed finger from her mouth to point at Harry.

Harry closes his eyes briefly and rakes a hand through his hair as he listens to the barely-suppressed sounds of amusement around the circle and attempts to sink through the floor. It’s not as though Harry hasn’t realised that this last wave of patients were out in the real world at the time of the first Prophet article, but he’s really tried not to think about it. Big mistake.

When he opens his eyes, Draco is gazing past him at his patient, eyes flickering with a strange serene exasperation. Harry doesn’t know why he’s surprised; Draco has always been more at home in this place than any other. Here, he’s like the man who cannot be shocked.

“Thank you, Gretchen, it’s a comfort to know that I can call on you any time I find myself unable to finish my sentences.”

Gretchen pulls a face at his tone, and Harry smirks at the floor. Point one to Draco.

“But yes,” he adds, glancing quickly at Harry, and not one of the six patients in the circle looks even mildly ruffled by the implication. “With him.”

I really am going to miss this, Harry reflects, watching Draco pitch the stone across the circle to Ginny and get to his feet.

**~*~**

“I’m really going to miss this,” Ginny sighs as she and Harry sit in adjacent armchairs next to the fire, sprawled out and allowing their lunches to digest.

“I know. But at least now you’ll have the new place, and you’ll be getting paid for it,” Harry points out, turning slightly to look at her as she smiles with sudden raw delight, as though just remembering that fact, in that way that great, surprising news has of not quite sinking in straight away.

“Crazy, isn’t it? Brilliant, but crazy. I can’t wait to tell Mum.” Ginny stops abruptly and flicks a guilty glance at Harry.

Sighing, he nudges her with his foot. “You don’t have to not mention her, you know.”

“I know. It’s just... things are weird at the moment, and I have to keep reminding myself of why.”

“She’s still mad at me, isn’t she?”

Ginny scrunches up her nose in deep thought. “Well, she’s less mad than she was. I’d say she’s simmered down from apoplectic to merely... irate.”

Harry looks at the ceiling, half-amused. “Great, thanks. That’s comforting.”

Ginny pulls her feet up onto her chair and tucks them under her. “You know it’s because she cares about you, don’t you? It’s her surrogate mother instinct gone haywire.”

“So everyone keeps telling me, but if you ask me she’s just annoyed with me.”

“Well, maybe that as well. She... imagined other things for you, and it’s hard for her to change her mindset,” Ginny hedges, thankfully not saying what they both know—that, even years later, Mrs Weasley is still a little bit disappointed that Harry and Ginny didn’t go the distance.

“The less said about that, the better, I think,” Harry says and Ginny makes a small sound of agreement beside him.

“The point is, she didn’t exactly picture you with someone like Draco.”

Harry snorts. “Who did?”

“I did,” Ginny mumbles under her breath, and he sticks his tongue out at her. “Look, for what it’s worth, I decided she couldn’t be any madder than she already was, so I decided to tell her that we’ve been friends for the last two years. Me and Draco.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Ginny continues. “And when she’d finished yelling at me, she seemed a little bit calmer about your situation, so... you owe me one.”

Harry can’t stop the warm smile tugging at his lips. He stares down at his fingers, wrapped around the worn, bobbled fabric of the chair arms. “You sacrificed yourself for me? Ginevra Weasley, how noble.”

She nods. “I know. I think it worked, too. I reckon you can expect a dinner invitation within the week.”

Scratching at the bobbles with his thumbnail, Harry considers her words. He does want to straighten things out with Molly, though he’s determined not to apologise. Despite what half the Wizarding world seems to think, he hasn’t done anything wrong, and she’s going to have to take back some of those Howler sentiments before anything else happens. Her misplaced concern hurts him, but he misses her. Misses being fussed over and interrogated and overfed every Sunday.

“We’ll see,” he says at last. “I just wish everyone would... I don’t know. Understand, or at least just leave it alone.”

“Is it still as bad?” Ginny twists in her chair to look at him.

Harry hesitates. “Don’t... don’t tell Draco about this, but this morning, I went into Diagon Alley just as myself. No Polyjuice, no Glamour, no nothing. I know, I know... partly, I’m tired of it, and I think part of me wanted to just see what would happen.”

“Morbid curiosity?”

“Yeah. Apart from some staring and whispering, which is par for the course, I thought I’d got away with it, until I came out of the coffee shop, and these two witches stepped out of the shadows; one started yelling ‘Finite’ at me and the other one threw a fucking potion all over me.” Harry scowls and picks restlessly at the chair fabric. “By the time I demanded to know what the hell was going on, I was soaking wet and they were just staring at me. A bloody Love Potion Antidote. That’s what they threw at me. They’re that determined that Draco’s bewitched me in some way, it’s just... insulting.”

“To both of you,” Ginny agrees, brow furrowed. “That’s just ridiculous. I’m sorry, Harry.”

“Yeah.” Harry exhales hard through his nostrils and stares across the room to where Draco is sitting on the edge of the big table, overseeing a four-person game of Scrabble and currently offering advice to Louis, who is tucking his dark hair behind his ears and nodding carefully, eyes on his tiles. “I’m used to it. It makes me mad, but I’m used to it. He’s not.”

Ginny follows his eyes and for a while they watch Draco in silence. When Gretchen and the patient beside her suddenly burst into song, Draco laughs unreservedly, sharing some inside joke that Harry doesn’t understand; he rests hands on his thighs, mouth stretched wide and eyes sparkling.

“Come on, Draco.”

“No.”

Draco.

No.”

“Please?”

Draco rolls his eyes, still smiling, and reluctantly joins in with a last chorus of: “And the mouse went down her trousers...

The little group bursts into spontaneous applause and just in that moment, Draco’s angular, refined face is the picture of good-natured pleasure. It hurts Harry’s heart to see it. He can’t take his eyes away from this handsome blond man, beautifully dressed and elegant and wholeheartedly adored by some of the most straight-talking people Harry has ever met. This strange man, who is scribbling something on a little sticky note and attaching it to curly-haired Helena’s forehead with a playful smirk.

“Do you love him?”

Stomach dropping through the floor, Harry whips his head around to stare at his friend. “Ginny!”

“What?”

“I... Gin.” Harry scratches through his hair, completely flustered by the question. He’s never said I love you like that to anyone but her, and fuck, that was a long time ago.

Her mouth twitches and suddenly Harry wishes he was somewhere else. Or, even better, that she was somewhere else. “Alright...” She holds up both hands in a gesture of supplication, and Harry tears his eyes away from her amused blue ones to look at Draco again.

“No, no... there, look. Triple word score. And it’s I before E, or do you want another reminder?” Draco waves the pad of post-its, and Helena laughs, rearranging her letters to his satisfaction.

When he looks up and catches Harry’s eyes, he smiles, and Harry tries to pretend that Ginny isn’t smirking like mad beside him.

**~*~**

It’s raining by the time they decide to leave for home, and Harry doesn’t need much persuasion to Apparate instead of walk back to Grimmauld Place. The weekend newspapers, for once, are untouched on the living room table, and Harry fully expects Draco to head for his usual chair and start into them, but he doesn’t.

In fact, Draco is curiously quiet as they make tea and mountains of toast, and Harry can’t decide if he’s upset, irritated or merely thoughtful, as even when they make eye contact, Draco’s expression is weirdly unreadable. Draco sits down at the kitchen table and picks at his toast until it goes cold.

Licking his fingers clean of melted butter, Harry sighs. It’s a distinct possibility that Draco would pick a fight just to distract from an overload of emotions from the day that he doesn’t want to deal with; the more Harry thinks about it, the more he’s convinced that that’s exactly what he’s doing. “Draco, do you—”

“I want to go with you,” Draco interrupts.

“What?”

“I want to come on one of your Gryffindor Polyjuice outings.”

Astonished, Harry looks from the determined set of his mouth to the crossed arms to the hard, narrowed eyes; Draco looks like he’s ready for an argument. And honestly, Harry has no idea where this has come from. At all.

He stares at Draco across the table and reflects that there are few things Draco could have said that would’ve surprised him more than: ‘I want to come on one of your Gryffindor Polyjuice Outings.’

The grey eyes are pure challenge, but Harry is so baffled that all that comes out of his mouth is, “Er... why?”

Draco pushes his plate away and folds his arms. “I don’t know what you think I’m going to do, you know. To embarrass you. I’ve got lovely manners. Granger and I get on beautifully by owl. And Weasley, well... I’ll be nice. I will,” Draco finishes hotly, daring Harry to contradict him.

“Right,” Harry mumbles, head whirring. He still doesn’t know where this has sprung from, but he does know that Hermione has been dropping heavy hints about inviting Draco out with them for a couple of weeks now, and on reflection, he wouldn’t put it past her to bypass him completely in his reluctance to ask and be rejected. “Well, I—”

“Granger asked me when I was going to ‘give in and come out with you’,” Draco continues, and Harry’s heart sinks. “It would have been nice to be asked. By you.”

Harry rubs his eyes behind his glasses and then lets Draco slide back into focus in front of him. He suspects he’s in the wrong here, but guilt makes him petulant. “So you could say no, and mock me?”

“No! Why would I do that?” Draco frowns and uncrosses his arms with a weighty sigh. He doesn’t allow Harry to answer the question before he continues, dropping his eyes and collecting toast crumbs on the pad of his finger. “Well, alright. I know I don’t have the best record where your friends are concerned, but things have changed quite a bit since then, and... you said it yourself.”

Draco pauses. Hesitates. Licks the crumbs from his fingertip and looks up fiercely at Harry.

“What did I say?”

“They matter to you, so they’ll bloody well matter to me, OK?”

Harry smiles and extends his leg to slide against Draco’s under the table. “What is this, Quote-Me Day?”

Draco scowls but doesn’t move his leg away. “You should be flattered that I listen to the drivel that comes out of your mouth,” he snaps, eyes softening fractionally.

“I am,” Harry assures, glancing outside the window at the dark sky and then back at Draco, whose skin glows in the soft light of the kitchen. “I didn’t ask you because I thought you wouldn’t want to, that’s all.”

“Yes, well. You shouldn’t assume things.”

“Oh?” Harry’s eyebrows shoot up as he realises with a flash of irony that the double standard isn’t his alone. Draco says nothing, but the split-second quirk of his mouth suggests he knows it, too. “Point taken. Of course you can come.”

Draco’s small sound of triumph is the only answer he gets, but Harry twists around his chair and watches him rise from his chair, cross the kitchen floor and stand at the worktop drumming his fingers on the shiny surface.

Curious and just a little bit pleased, Harry goes to stand behind him, resting an enquiring hand on Draco’s lower back.

Draco looks at him, and then determinedly at his Hermione-adapted Muggle toaster.

“Come on then, show me how this works.”

Harry takes in his drawn-down eyebrows and tapping fingers. Ginny’s words echo in his head and he hurriedly draws a veil over them, focusing instead on the comfortable warmth pooling in his belly.

“In a minute,” Harry says, and kisses him.

**~*~**

Unfortunately for Harry, Ginny’s question isn’t as easily expunged from his head as he’d hoped; it’s still there as he and Draco head upstairs and undress in the dark; it’s there as Draco stares down at him, eyes bright, and sinks down onto him, enveloping him the familiar tight heat that dissolves him inside; it’s there as they move urgently together, sliding and panting and claiming, nails cutting into skin and hands urging closer, faster, come with me.

It’s there as they lie together afterwards, talking about how Helena is rubbish at Scrabble and how Ginny looks funny when she’s surprised and how Ron talks absolute crap when he’s had a few drinks, and exchanging silent ‘You were brilliant today’-s and ‘I’m glad you were there’-s.

It’s there when Harry wakes and finds Draco dressed in his boxers and a creased t-shirt, poking at the toaster with one hand and holding the folded-over Saturday Guardian up to his face with the other. It prods sharply at him when Draco sees him, throws the paper down in exasperation and says: “Harry, I don’t think your toasting machine likes me.”

It’s still there, nagging at the back of his head and prickling at his skin as he walks slowly up the drive to the Manor some hours later, Draco having gone ahead earlier to deal with a delivery for the new main lounge. Despite Draco’s better attempts at persuasion, Harry still prefers the walk to the Floo, and today he needs the air more than ever, even if it is drizzling a bit.

Tiny, pathetic water droplets skate down the back of his neck and make him shiver. The gravel crunches underfoot. He’s had a look around, and there are no peacocks to be seen.

“Do you love him?” he mutters to himself, head down against the wind. “What kind of question is that, anyway?”

A valid one, probably, prods his subconscious. But no matter.

The truth is, Draco Malfoy is everything unexpected, and Harry is mostly left feeling like he doesn’t know which way is up.

A sudden sharp pain in the sensitive back of Harry’s knee makes him jump and half-yelp half-swear in a rather undignified fashion.

Spinning around, he knows, and still he lets out a growl of indignant rage as he catches sight of the blur of fast-moving blue and green streaking away into the bushes.

“Little bastard.” He stands there in the middle of the path, squinting through his rain-dappled glasses, for some time. Eventually, scowling and rubbing at the back of his knee, he quickens his pace and heads for the Manor.

Stepping into the entrance hall, he shakes himself of excess water and casts a Drying Charm over his wet coat before allowing Flimby to take it from him, assuring the anxious house-elf that he’ll find his own way.

There’s no uncomfortable lunch planned for today, thank Merlin, but Harry has come prepared and hastens to set the next in his series of appropriate decorous-guest gifts on the appointed table. It’s a small set of rare speciality preserves, which Cecile had looked over with grudging approval. When Harry had asked her why the curled lip, she’d rolled her eyes and said, “I just hate that word ‘preserves’. You know what? It’s jam. Just fucking jam.”

Harry looks once more over the Cariad and Marlowe box of ‘just fucking jam’ and heads for the staircase. Halfway there, the clack of heels on marble makes him turn.

“Mr Potter.”

Zeus breaks free and skitters across the shiny floor, jumping up to rest front paws on Harry’s knees. He looks down into the animal’s laughing face and smiles. When he raises his eyes to Mrs Malfoy, she merely waits, eyes calm and impassive.

“Mrs Malfoy.” He nods. “Vegrandis tamen utpote.”

Veneratio et gratia, Mr Potter.”

The exchange is smooth this time, as though she is no longer surprised. The pale, fine-boned face gives away nothing, but as Harry nudges Zeus back to her side, he looks her right in the eyes and stands as straight as he can.

Might as well learn to like me, he says silently, because I’m not going anywhere.

She holds his gaze for a moment or two with no change to her expression, and then is gone in a swirl of mint green and blonde hair, Zeus trotting amiably behind her.

“You’re all wet,” Draco says, and Harry turns. “Do you want to come and see the new stuff?”

He’s walking down the staircase toward Harry, dressed casually in blacks and greys, hair slightly dishevelled and eyes pewter-bright with genuine pleasure. His ‘Taking Over the World’ notebook dangles from one hand, and he smiles at Harry’s bewildered expression.

Harry can’t move or breathe, because he’s paralysed by a sudden sharp, hot rush of feeling for him that dissolves the answer on his tongue and almost knocks him off his feet. It makes no sense, because Draco’s doing nothing but standing there at the bottom of the stairs, now with one eyebrow lifted in mute enquiry, but Harry’s heart fills and aches at the sight of him and he can do nothing to stop it.

Inhaling sharply, Harry shoves his fingers into his pockets. “Hmm?”

“Is that a yes?” Draco wants to know, curling his arms around the book.

“Yes,” Harry says.

Yes. Yes to whatever he’s being asked, and yes, he does love Draco.

**~*~**

“I’m just going to check how the reconstruction’s coming along, Mr Naylor,” Harry addresses his patient, tracing a familiar web of lines over the man’s injured leg and watching with satisfaction as they glow orange.

“Good stuff, Healer,” the middle-aged man says agreeably, observing Harry’s wand movements over the top of his little square glasses.

As he waits for the charm to fully take effect, Harry gazes down at his hands and wrists; he’s pushed up the sleeves of his work robes somewhere during the course of his hectic Monday morning, and as he stands there, his eyes are drawn from his bitten-down nails to the string bracelet still knotted around his wrist.

The fibres are bleached almost pure white now through repeated showers and the constant hand-washing that comes with the job, and so soft against his skin that he almost doesn’t notice it any more. Hermione has, though, and though she’d seemed unsatisfied with Harry’s assertion that, ‘Well, it’s string, ’Mione,’ she’d left it alone all the same.

It’s Draco’s string, though, and the sentimental part of himself that Harry never knew he had recognises the insignificant importance of that fact.

“Not this again, Mum. Please just leave it alone.” The voice is so heavy with exasperation that Harry can’t help sliding his eyes to the girl of about his age in the next bed over, sitting with her arms crossed and glaring at her mother, who’s sitting in the chair by her bedside and fussing with the items on her daughter’s bedside cabinet.

“I don’t want you to get hurt, Anna. I don’t think he’s good for you.”

The girl sighs heavily. “I know that. But it’s not up to you.”

Harry’s attention is well and truly caught as he feels a twinge of empathy for the girl.

“You’re sick, you shouldn’t have to worry about the messes he’s getting himself into as well, it’d really be better if you just—”

“Mum,” she interrupts firmly, and Harry is impressed. “I don’t want to argue with you about him any more.”

“Darling...” the older woman appeals, face lined with concern, one pale hand reaching for her daughter’s on top of the sheets.

“I love him, so just leave it alone now,” Anna says firmly, and her mother falls silent, looking very much like she wants to argue, but wisely deciding not to.

Just then, Anna looks up and happens to catch Harry’s eyes. He hurriedly pastes on a small, professional smile and turns back to his test as though he hasn’t been listening to her conversation. But he has, of course, and he’s awash with a nasty, creeping guilt that licks at his insides. Hearing those words put so plainly makes his ‘wait until it blows over’ approach to Molly Weasley’s disapproval look weak, cowardly, spineless... things that he never wants to be, whatever the circumstances.

The more he thinks about it, in fact, the more the desire to stand up for his relationship, his choice, his... Draco, grows inside him until it’s just about ready to burst out.

“Kids, eh?” offers Mr Naylor, who has apparently also been listening.

Harry snaps out of it and smiles weakly, dispelling the orange lines and making the appropriate notation on the patient’s chart. “Yeah.”

**~*~**

By the end of his shift, four hours later, he can barely wait another second to pay his surrogate mother a visit and speak to her in no uncertain terms about the whole thing. On impulse, he Apparates straight into the back yard of the Burrow without even stopping to change out of his green robes; it seems that just that pinch of borrowed fortitude has unleashed an ‘I’m going to sort this out once and for all’ drive so compelling that he has to remind himself to take a breath and not actually bite her head off.

The sound of laughter greets him as he pushes open the back door into the kitchen; Molly, Neville and Ginny are sitting around the kitchen table and Ginny is reading aloud from the Witch Weekly problem page, which is apparently causing them some amusement. They’re all drinking tea and there’s a half-finished pie on the table, amongst crumb-strewn plates and forks and spoons. It’s such a scene of warm domesticity that Harry sighs, fingers still wrapped around the door handle.

Ginny looks up first, and the others are quick to follow. Molly’s expression reflects astonishment but Harry holds her gaze and through the tense silence, he thinks he sees a flicker of regret in her worn features.

“So, er, we have to get going, don’t we, Nev?” Ginny says, scraping her chair back and poking her boyfriend, who blinks twice and then nods, no doubt feeling the tension filling the small room.

“Harry,” Neville says, shooting him a sympathetic glance. “Bye, Molly.”

Ginny’s blue eyes bore into Harry’s as she backs toward the kitchen door, questioning, anxious, understanding.

Thanks, he mouths silently as Molly is distracted saying goodbye to Neville.

Good luck, she mouths back, and turns away, dragging Neville behind her to the fireplace. Harry waits, still hanging on to the back door, until he hears the whoosh of flames that indicates their departure.

Molly rises from the table and faces him in silence. As Harry lets go of the door handle and looks into the uncertain face of the woman who had looked after him when no one else would, he feels his vehemence falter, but then he remembers Anna’s words to her mother, and the Howler, and the Prophet, and Draco, and he hardens his resolve.

“Harry,” she says, and then, surprising him: “It’s good to see you.”

“I haven’t come to apologise.”

Her mouth twists and, just for a moment, she looks very old. “I didn’t think you had. I’ll make some tea, shall I?”

Thrown off balance slightly, Harry nods and pulls up a chair at the kitchen table, staring down at Ginny’s magazine as he waits. My boyfriend want to use Polyjuice in the bedroom, he reads with a raised eyebrow. There’s always someone with a weirder problem, he supposes.

She sits down opposite him with steaming cups, grey-streaked red hair wisping around her face. When she opens her mouth, Harry jumps in, determined to say what he needs to say.

“So... I know you’re not too impressed with me, and I also know that you probably think you know what’s best for me, but I’ve got a few things I want to say, too.”

She leans slightly across the table. “But Harry, you have to understand...”

He shakes his head, gripping his teacup and hating every fucking second of this. “I understand. I’m old enough to know what’s good for me and what’s not. I know what you think of Draco, and I kind of don’t blame you... I know the war left a lot of...” Harry pauses, unable to find the word to express the losses that his adopted family had suffered, which are rarely spoken about. A glance at Molly’s watery eyes tells him he doesn’t need to, anyway.

“I’m not going to sit here and justify everything he’s ever done in his life, because I can’t and I shouldn’t have to, but... there are circumstances, and people can change, and sometimes they do. Draco actually does a lot of good in his work, Molly. He really does.” Harry looks down at his green-swathed wrist and takes a deep, soothing breath. “But the point is, I suppose it doesn’t matter if you like him or not because it won’t change my mind, but I kind of hoped you’d respect my decision.”

Looking up, he’s startled by the expression on her face; it’s sad and yet full of a grudging respect he’s never seen before.

“I was very upset when I wrote that letter, Harry,” she says. “You know, the last person I saw you with was Ginny, and then to open the paper and suddenly have... that in front of me. I worry for you, like I worry for all my children.”

Her easy, casual inclusion of Harry within that provokes a rush of affection for the impetuous, overprotective woman in front of him and he can’t resist smiling at her.

“I know, Molly, but I can look after myself. We got five Howlers that day, you know. And every single one of them was full of horrible things about Draco just like yours was. He makes out like he’s not bothered, but he is,” Harry explains, resting his chin on his hand. “It’s not fair, either, because this time he’s not actually done anything wrong.”

She looks cowed for a moment, stubby fingers tracing patterns on her teacup, but then looks up, eyes pleading with a silent question that Harry wishes she’d just ask. After what seems like a year, she does.

“But Harry... if it has to be... a man, why would you choose him? Surely lots of nice young men would like to take you out.”

It’s an effort not to just cover his eyes with his hands and groan out loud, but Harry manages it. Just about. It’s the oddest thing, but just in that moment, he could be sitting in the dining room at Malfoy Manor. Sure, the surroundings and the exact words are different, but the sentiment is sharply familiar.

“Because I love him,” he says, with a funny little twist in his chest.

She stares, wide eyed and slack-mouthed. “Oh,” she whispers. “Oh.”

He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Molly Weasley so lost for words in all the years he’s known her. As he rises from his seat, he feels much of his anger with her fall away. “I’ll just make some more tea, shall I?” he announces to the room, not expecting an answer.

He heats the water and turns to look at her, stock still at the table, processing. He hadn’t quite expected to say that, but, well, he’s said it now.

“Look, I know I said I wasn’t apologising but actually, I am sorry for the way you found out. But you must know that we didn’t exactly plan it to happen that way. Molly, ninety percent of the Wizarding community is against this. And they all think it’s Draco’s fault, and they’re all giving him hell about it. You know what they’re writing in the papers.” He pours and bites his lip, feeling curiously vulnerable. “Please. I don’t want that from you as well.”

The words seem to break her out of her trance and she gets up, clutching the back of her rickety wooden chair for support.

“I’m sorry, Harry, I really am.” Lower lip twitching, she approaches him and wraps him in a fierce hug, squeezing the life out of him, even though she’s short enough for him to rest his chin on top of her head. Which he does, returning her hug quickly, instantly soothed by her familiar scent of cooking and lilacs. “I just wanted to keep you safe, I’ve always wanted to keep you safe. If you can forgive me, I suppose I can have a go at forgiving him.”

He laughs shakily. “Thank you, that’s all I wanted. Gin likes him, you know... and she’s a pretty good judge of character,” he whispers into her hair before pulling out of the embrace to breathe.

“That she might be, but she still lied to me for two years,” Molly points out, but her face is so warm and comfortable again that she could be saying anything and Harry would still be relieved. She looks him up and down appraisingly. “Come and eat some of this pie, you look like you’re getting skinny again.”

Harry rolls his eyes and sits obediently at the table.

**~*~**

An hour and many, many questions later, Harry Apparates into his living room, feeling proud, a little fragile and more than a little drained. To his surprise, he finds Draco sitting with his back to him on the sofa like he belongs there, one foot tucked under him and his head resting against the back cushions as he leafs through Harry’s dog-eared copy of ‘Brown’s Healing Essentials’.

In his single-mindedness, he’d completely forgotten that they’d planned to meet here after work.

At the sound of robes being shed, Draco lifts his head and raises an eyebrow in greeting, stretching luxuriously.

“Thought you’d forgotten where you lived. Interesting book, this.” He holds up Brown’s and smiles lazily at Harry. “Your margin notes make particularly entertaining reading...” Draco trails off at the look Harry imagines must be on his face as he rounds the sofa and kneels over Draco’s lap without a word.

Something about the realisation he’s made today and the leap he’s taken to make things right has set him adrift and his heart is racing madly with the urgent need to reaffirm their connection. He doesn’t want to have a conversation with Draco about what he’s just done, not right now, anyway. He wants something much more basic than that.

Draco’s eyes are intense, questioning, but as Harry pins his wrists back to the cushions and kisses him slowly, deeply, and without preamble, Harry suspects he’s not going to stop him. He’s right, and within seconds, Draco’s eyes fall closed and he lets his tongue slide alongside Harry’s with a soft, uncharacteristic submission. As though he knows that Harry just needs it right now, and perhaps he does.

It’s a slow, searching, messy kiss and Harry gives himself over to it completely, tightening fingers around Draco’s wrists and exploring his mouth with abandon as the familiar heat builds between them. Shifting closer, he instinctively grinds his hips down and finds the delicious hardness that rubs against his through layers of denim and tailored wool. Draco shudders and gasps into his mouth but doesn’t try to free himself from Harry’s grip.

Urgent desire spirals through Harry as he falls deeper into the kiss and rocks into him again. So good. And again. Draco tilts his hips upwards and grazes Harry’s lips ever-so-slightly with his teeth. Unable to suppress a low hiss at the sudden increased friction, Harry pulls away from the kiss and buries his nose in Draco’s neck, breathing in the warm scent of his arousal and licking up over his pulse point.

He had actually planned doing something that involved at least getting Draco’s pants undone, but as they move together in a quickening, erratic, desperate rhythm, he knows that they’re going to finish it right here. He’s going to come in his pants and it feels quick and dirty and fantastic.

The wrists in his grip flex as Draco digs his fingers into the sofa cushions, continues to thrust frantically up against him and turns his head, searching out Harry’s mouth.

“Don’t stop... fuck. Don’t stop. Close,” he whispers, opening his eyes and pinning Harry with heated liquid silver as they take shaky, rapid breaths together, mouths barely brushing until Harry can’t stand it for another second and crashes their lips together with an extra-hard push of his clothed erection against the one below that pushes Draco over the edge with a shudder and a low, harsh groan.

The sound and the spread of wetness through fabric are too much for Harry and he follows with a whispered mixture of curses and endearments emptied into Draco’s mouth.

Their lips continue to slide softly together as they come back to themselves; Harry releases Draco’s wrists and his arms come up immediately to wrap around Harry’s waist and prevent him from slithering to the floor in his boneless state. Sticky, warm and breathless, Harry once again feels calm inside, as though despite the dissenters and the critics, everything’s alright with the world again.

When he pulls back to look at Draco, his eyes are open and he’s regarding Harry with curiosity, affection and amusement. He’s slightly flushed and a swathe of blond hair is half covering one grey eye.

“I was going to tell you off for being late, but I rather think I’ve forgiven you,” he says.

“Good, because I’m too tired to do it again,” Harry advises. “Straightaway,” he adds.

**~*~**

The days race by in a frenzy of Not-Malfoy Manor Chem Dep preparations, Christmas build-up and dealing with the seasonal influx of patients; Harry doesn’t have too much time or headspace to think about his revelation in the entrance hall of the Manor, but every now and then it catches him unawares and leaves him with the kind of smile that he has to chew on his lip to control.

Today is Wednesday, doomsday for Chem Dep, and Harry is under strict instructions to stay downstairs until after his shift. Ostensibly, Draco is going to be very busy tying up loose ends, but he suspects that Draco doesn’t want Harry to see him upset, and Harry has decided to let him get on with it.

Cecile is leaning across the canteen table to examine the glittering red tinsel in Eloise’s hair, practically dangling the sleeve of her robe into Harry’s coffee and forcing him to press himself back into his chair. She smells predictably of lavender, and bizarrely of ginger biscuits.

“...at that shop at the end of Diagon Alley,” Eloise is saying. “You know, the one next to the ice cream place. I was supposed to be buying Christmas presents, of course.”

Cecile snorts and sits back down, to Harry relief. “You’re ridiculously organised, El. I still do all mine on Christmas Eve.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Terry says, and Eloise is aghast.

“You mean to say you haven’t bought anything yet? Cecile!”

Cecile blinks, and she and Harry share a sympathetic glance; he hasn’t bought anything yet either. He’s always been a pretty last minute person, and as far as he’s concerned, Christmas shopping is one of those tasks that are better to just get over with in one fell swoop. The threat of the shops closing around him is just a good incentive for efficiency.

“Neither have I,” he confesses, and Eloise turns beseeching dark eyes upon him.

“I’m staying out of this,” Terry offers, opening a little packet of biscuits.

“Not even for Draco?” Eloise lays a small hand on Harry’s wrist, and he suddenly has the feeling he’s about to be subject to a canteen-based intervention.

“No, not even for Draco.” Harry looks to Cecile for help but she merely shrugs, clearly relieved that the heat is off her. Eloise continues to look scandalized, and he adds: “Not because I don’t want to, or anything... but what the hell do you buy the man who, quite literally, has everything?”

Silence falls around the table as Harry’s friends consider the question, and he listens to the low murmur of chair-scraping and conversation in the canteen around them.

“Blow jobs always go down well,” Terry says wistfully through half a custard cream. “So to speak.”

Eloise splutters and Harry looses an undignified snort of laughter, astonished to hear strait-laced Terry actually daring to speculate about his sex life.

“Terry, for fuck’s sake,” Cecile hisses, looking up from her plate. “That’s not a gift; he’s going to be getting those anyway.”

Eloise covers her face and giggles helplessly. Harry tries not to go red, with limited success.

Terry shrugs nonchalantly. “Just a thought.”

“Duly noted,” Harry says. “Does anyone have a sensible suggestion?”

Cecile sticks a finger into her cappuccino foam. “Get him something you can’t buy. Use your Super-Dark-Lord-Slayer status to wangle him a bit of Viktor Krum’s chest hair, or something.”

Harry rubs his eyes behind his glasses, baffled. “Cecile... why would he want a bit of Viktor Krum’s chest hair?”

“To Polyjuice into Viktor Krum?” Terry suggests. “Or for you to—”

“Stop. Please. When did you all turn into perverts?”

“We didn’t, you just never noticed it before,” says Cecile with a truly Slytherin grin.

Harry thinks that’s a distinct possibility, but says nothing, choosing instead to pull a face at Cecile, which she returns, with bells on.

“You should get him something that no one else would ever think to get him,” Eloise says after a moment. “Last Christmas, Marcus paid for my parents to go on this amazing holiday. I know it sounds strange, but he knew that I’ve always wanted to do that for them, they’ve never even been out of the country. I could never afford it, but he knew I wouldn’t just let him do it... so he did it as my Christmas gift. It was the best present anyone’s ever given me. Looking at their photographs afterwards, I just...” She shrugs wordlessly.

The three other occupants of the table stare at her until Cecile breaks the silence.

“Fuck me, El.” She folds her arms on the table and gives Harry a brisk nod. “That’s it. She’s right.”

Moved by the story, Harry instinctively makes a joke. “I don’t think Narcissa Malfoy would relish the prospect of travelling the world on Harry Potter’s Galleon.”

Cecile rolls her eyes. “Must you be so literal?”

“I was joking.”

“Well, stop it.”

As Harry finishes his coffee and trails back to Ward One, he turns Eloise’s words over and over in his head. Something that no one else would ever think to get him. His first patient is a mess of broken bones from a Quidditch mishap, and Harry pushes the idea to the back of his mind with a promise to re-examine it later.

After today, he suspects Draco is going to need something spectacular.

**~*~**

“Draco?”

Harry frowns, puts away his wand and steps back into the main group room. It’s after six and he’s delayed only in as long as it has taken him to remove his robes, down a cup of coffee and Apparate to the fifth floor.

Chem Dep is eerily silent. The office is unlocked and the lounge is deserted; the only sounds are the crackling of the dying fire and the echoes of Harry’s own footsteps. Stage One is as it always is, though the patients sleep more peacefully now than they used to, and Harry only hopes it stays that way. Even though he’d known there would be no more Stage Two patients wandering around after today, knowing it is no preparation for this hush, this stillness, and it wrenches at him.

Eventually, Harry finds him in the lab. He’s standing in the centre of the almost-bare room, wand in hand, levitating his books into boxes according to some peculiar system that only he understands. He stiffens slightly at the sound of Harry’s footsteps and turns his head for a cursory glance, eyes shuttered, before returning to his task.

The cauldrons are gone, as are Draco’s framed photographs. Biting his lip, Harry goes to the worktable and shrinks the full boxes to a fraction of their size, stacking them neatly and pulling up a stool.

“Where’s Shelagh?” he says eventually, hoping it’s a neutral question.

“Oh, I kicked her out earlier.”

“You kicked her out?”

Draco nods, still half-turned away from Harry, eyes shielded by his hair. “She was hanging around and getting under my feet, trying to help,” he explains with a particularly vicious flick of his wand, sending books flying and scattering inches over Harry’s head and into their allocated boxes. “And no, before you ask, that does not mean I want you to leave.”

“I know,” Harry says, though he hadn’t.

“They’ve no idea, you know,” Draco says, eyes on his task. “It would have been nothing for them to give us another week. They don’t understand how difficult Christmas is for recovering addicts. No fucking clue. And now, they’ve nowhere to go. Fucking idiots.”

“Could you have asked for another week?”

Draco empties the last bookshelf and exhales hard, staring at the floor. “I did. They refused.”

“You never told me.”

“I knew it was pointless.”

“I’m really sorry, Draco,” Harry whispers, unable to stop himself scraping back his stool and stepping closer.

“Yeah. I know.” Abruptly, he looks up, eyes flat. “I spent five Christmas Days here, you know. It’s going to be strange.”

Draco’s odd, slightly ragged tone pulls at him, and Harry reaches out to encircle both wrists with his fingers, rubbing thumbs over the soft, warm skin. It’s strange to think he’ll never sit in this lab again, watching Draco work and staring out the little photo-Snape on the table. Strange for him, and this isn’t the world he’s created, just one that he’s jumped into at the last minute.

“Do you... er, do you want some help with these boxes?” he offers, just for something to say.

Draco’s fingertips graze the insides of his forearms at an awkward angle.

“Thanks.”

A brief half-smile, and he’s pulling away, finishing the task quickly and gathering several small boxes into his arms, leaving the rest for Harry. Outside the door, Draco sets his load down and pulls his wand out of his pocket; Harry waits, wishing he’d cast some sort of Sticking Charm because the cascade of tiny boxes seems determined to escape from his arms.

The hand down by Draco’s side curls and clenches into a fist as he raises his wand and slowly, painstakingly, takes down the intricate wards from the door of the lab. Harry watches him in silence until he can’t stand it any more, and besides, he’s going to drop something.

He wanders through the empty lounge, thinking of Fyz and Marguerite and Seb, Cassandra and Martin, Leonard and Soraya and Jake and Ramona. Remembering all of the conversations he’s been drawn into: the surreal, the sobering and the surprising. The photographs have been taken down and the wall is blank now save for the sticky marks of leftover Spellotape. He wonders what Draco has done with them.

There’ve been rumours that the board plans to turn Stage Two into a conferencing facility, and while Harry hopes that’s not true, he realises that it probably is. And of course, he thinks bitterly, entering the office and dropping his boxes onto the desk, what could be more important than a nice place for esteemed board members to sit around and discuss the less significant?

Harry sighs and sits heavily on the edge of the desk. The bookshelves are bare here, too. He leans over and pulls the desk drawers open one by one— also empty. Draco’s rug is rolled up in a corner and his fancy clock is leaning up against the desk, hands still, as though it doesn’t quite know where to suggest Draco should be any more.

“There you are.” Draco appears in the doorway, arms full of tiny boxes. “Could you grab that bag over there?”

Harry looks to where he jerks his chin and retrieves the stylish leather holdall, which already contains far more than it looks like it should be able to. They sweep all of the tiny boxes into the bag and Draco somehow manages to shove in the clock and the rug.

“Right,” he says, sounding lost. He sits on the edge of the desk next to Harry, close enough for their thighs to press full-length against each other, and stares determinedly into the middle distance. “I don’t quite know what to do now.”

Harry has no idea what to say. Heartsore, he rests his hand on Draco’s thigh and, when warm fingers lace through his, he squeezes them. There’s nothing to do but leave, he supposes, but saying so seems extremely insensitive. Especially seeing as Draco knows that already.

“How is it possible for the whole world to turn upside down in the space of three months?”

Harry’s soft laughter catches in his chest. He turns and presses his face into the shoulder of Draco’s sable-coloured sweater. “I don’t know. If there’s a God, he’s really taking the piss.”

The shoulder shakes lightly and Harry looks up, straight into serious pale eyes. “It’s not all bad. That’s not what I meant.”

“I know.” Holding his gaze, Harry gives in to the ridiculous spiral of emotion and rides it, letting Draco see his stupid smile and hoping that, for now, it conveys all of the things that he wants to say but doesn’t quite dare to, here in this empty, silent office that doesn’t really belong to Draco any more.

I love you. I’m sorry this is hurting you. I want to make it alright. I think I want to make everything alright for you, as long as you need me to. I’d do anything for you. Did I mention that I love you?

The grey eyes are warm and steady, drawing him in for longer than he cares to think about, until Draco shakes himself. “I’m being sentimental about this, it’s ridiculous.”

He rises and picks up the bag, slinging it across his shoulders. Something about the set of his mouth tells Harry he needs a moment, so he leaves the office and stands in the doorway of Stage One, observing the calm stillness that, here, is reassuring rather than jarring. The air here is soft and smells comfortingly of the detox potions that will always remind him of discovery and excitement and hating Draco, and wanting Draco.

The sound of Draco’s voice pulls him out of his thoughts; frowning, he follows it to the half-open door of the stationery closet.

“You were a good cupboard,” Draco is saying wistfully as Harry pulls the door open and stares at him, fingers wrapped around the leather bag strap, leaning against one set of empty shelves and addressing the other.

“It won’t answer back, you know,” Harry advises, smiling.

“I know. It’s only you that has furniture that can’t keep its opinions to itself.”

Draco flashes a bright grin but his eyes waver as Harry steps into the cupboard, breathes in the phantom scent of ink and thinks ‘fuck it,’ closing the distance between them and wrapping his arms around Draco.

The bulky leather bag digs into Harry’s thigh as he presses himself full length against Draco, slipping one hand under the back of his sweater and curling the other around the back of his neck, tilting his head back to bring their lips together in a kiss that’s part ‘I know it hurts,’ and part ‘I just really like your mouth’.

Draco resists for a second or two, fighting the offer of comfort, until Harry urges his mouth open with an insistent tongue and feels Draco melt against him with a dry whimper, fingers twisting into Harry’s hair. Harry lets his eyes fall closed and throws everything he has into this slow, desperate kiss with a man who’s got ‘I’m fine’ down to an art-form. Tongues sliding together, hot, wet, achingly good, he holds and loves and promises with his mouth and hands and body, hoping that the reciprocity he feels in Draco’s response is as real as it seems.

And all the while, Harry hasn’t forgotten that this is where it all began.

“I found your kink,” Draco murmurs against his mouth, breathless, eyes closed. “Cupboards. You have a cupboard kink.”

“Shut up, Draco.”

Opening one eye, Harry watches the sad half-smile twitch Draco’s lips. His eyes blink slowly open and fix on Harry’s. “Time to go, I think.”

“OK.”

As he crosses the main group room to reach the first set of doors, Draco turns back to look, just once. Harry lingers, pausing as his eyes fall upon the ‘Knock and WAIT’ notice still affixed to the door of the empty office. Draco steps into the corridor and, impulsively, Harry darts across the room, yanks the sign from the door, rolls it up and shoves it into his pocket.

Casting his eyes around the moonlit, shadowy room, one hand on the exit door handle, Harry smirks to himself. He suddenly knows exactly what to give Draco for Christmas.

“Are you coming?” calls the impatient voice from the corridor.

“Yeah.”

Harry lets the door bang behind him.

Chapter Text

“Gin, you... er, look lovely this morning.” Harry flashes what he hopes is an ingratiating smile at Ginny through the fire.

She crouches, holding onto her knees and casts a glance at her magenta Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes robes. Looks up at Harry with suspicious blue eyes. “It’s seven thirty in the morning. It’s Thursday. I look average at best. What do you want?”

Harry grins. He’s never been all that skilled at flattery but it was worth a shot. “I need a favour.”

“Thought you might. Another one?” She winks, and Harry pulls a face.

“Yeah. I need you to take Draco out for lunch on Saturday and do whatever’s necessary to keep him occupied for the day. I don’t care if it’s weird, or illegal, or... just don’t tell me.”

Ginny’s eyebrows shoot up and her face lights with intrigue. “Why?”

“Because I need him out of the way, and that’s all you’re getting.” Harry smiles appealingly. “Come on, Gin. Please?”

“Fine. It’d better be something good, because he’ll drag me around bookshops all afternoon, I can see it now.” Ginny raises her eyes to the ceiling.

“You’re my star, thank you. And also...” Harry hesitates, fingers wrapped around the fireplace surround, seconds from withdrawing from the fire-call. “...do you know anything about Construction Charms?”

Ginny frowns, wrapping her hair around one finger. “Like for building stuff? No, not really. What are you building?”

“Doesn’t matter, I just wondered. Thanks, Gin, I’ll see you,” Harry says, pulling back from the flames. Her sudden call pulls him back.

“Harry! Wait. Look, I don’t know why you’re being so cloak and dagger about this, but... looks like he and I are going to be colleagues and all, so... Fyzal might know what to do.”

“Chem Dep Fyzal?”

“Do you know another?” Ginny smirks. “His dad’s some kind of Master Craftsman, I remember him talking about it in treatment.”

Harry thanks Ginny again and ends the call, sitting back on his heels on the hearth rug.

Well, well. You learn something new every day.

If he can just survive Friday night, then things might just be going according to plan for once.

**~*~**

“It’s red,” Draco says, holding up his transparent flask of Polyjuice to the light and wrinkling his nose. “Do you think that’s significant?”

Harry smirks at his suspicious expression and shrugs. His own potion is a pale blue, the hair having been obtained from a man he’d accidentally-on-purpose bumped into on the way home from work. They have fifteen minutes before they’re due to meet Ron and Hermione at the Golden Lotus, and there’s an insistent prickle of nervousness crawling about in Harry’s stomach.

It’ll be fine, he’s almost certain it will. But still. It’s very, very weird.

“Just drink it, Draco,” he advises, leaning across the sofa to offer a last reassuring kiss as himself before downing the blue, chalky-tasting liquid in one go.

Draco exhales slowly and eyes the potion for another few seconds, then closes his eyes and drinks it. Harry closes his eyes tight, feeling the familiar but still uncomfortable shift as his body reforms itself. He’s learned from painful experience not to choose hairs from people with dramatically different frames and features to his own, but it’s still not the most pleasant process.

The soft sound of distress from the other end of the sofa makes his eyes fly open; as usual, he doesn’t need his glasses and plucks them from his nose hurriedly. He watches Draco’s pale features shifting and resists the temptation to touch him, knowing it will only make it worse.

Finally, the transformation settles, and Harry watches with interest as bright blue eyes blink open and fasten upon him. There’s silence in the room as they both stare at each other. Draco has chosen his own hair to add to some of Harry’s Polyjuice stash—courtesy of Hermione, of course—and Harry has been intrigued to see the results. And he continues to stare, because what’s sitting opposite him on his sofa is the strangest thing.

This man is Draco, but not Draco. This man has long-ish light brown hair, tanned skin and blue eyes, but he’s wearing Draco’s familiar expression of ‘Oh, really?’ that’s all carefully arched brow and wry half-smile. Not-Draco, who’s examining him with similar intensity, reaches out a hand to touch him, and Harry’s stomach twists. It’s weird. It’s very, very weird.

He wonders, as he allows Draco to take and examine his own unusually pale hand, how Ron and Hermione cope with this every week; he suspects they’re used to it by now, but still. There’s something extremely unsettling about seeing your lover wearing someone else’s face. He silences the irrational little part of him that’s demanding, ‘Change him back, change him back now!’ and swallows hard.

“This is so bizarre,” Draco says, breaking the silence. The voice is pitched slightly lower than usual but the inflection is still right. “You look like Weasley’s Spanish sidekick.”

“Rodriguez?! Don’t say that!” Horrified, Harry Accios a mirror into his hand and stares at his reflection. He fucking doesn’t. Alright, everything’s dark and a little bit Mediterranean-looking, but still. Crossly, he lowers the mirror and stares at Draco. “I do not. And anyway, I don’t think he’s actually Spanish.”

Draco smirks. “Well, whatever. It’s still very odd.” He trails his fingers up the inside of Harry’s arm speculatively. “I still can’t believe you made this stuff in second year.”

Harry looks at him, torn between really wanting to touch him and really not wanting to. “I didn’t, really,” he says absently. “Hermione did.”

“Clever Hermione,” Draco concedes, sliding his fingers back down to twine with Harry’s. Harry opens his mouth to call him on the use of the name, but something in Draco’s strange blue eyes compels him to leave it alone. “Shall we go?”

Harry nods, getting to his feet and closing his eyes, pulling not-Draco close for the jump and remembering with sudden and visceral pleasure, that whatever he looks like on the outside, Draco still smells like Draco; comforted, he concentrates on the hand on his back and Apparates them straight into the lobby of the restaurant.

“Look at us, out for dinner in a public place,” Draco whispers, looking around at the Friday evening diners with interest.

It strikes Harry all at once that they’ve never been able to do this before, and who knows when they’ll actually be able to do it without the subterfuge. Impulsively, he reaches for Draco’s hand and is pleasantly surprised when he startles slightly but doesn’t pull away.

“And you said I had no sense of adventure,” Harry whispers back as he scans the tables for his friends.

Draco snorts. “We’ll see about that.”

Harry flicks him a questioning glance and the devious expression makes him swallow hard.

“Where are they? They’re always here before me.”

“Bet I can spot them before you.”

Harry smiles, genuinely entertained. He leans against the bar and rubs his thumb over the back of Draco’s hand. “Bet me what?”

“Blow job in the toilets?” Draco offers under his breath, face giving nothing away as he continues to pointedly not look at Harry.

Harry groans and lifts his free hand to rub at his face, unsuccessfully covering the light flush that gives him away every time. The worst thing is, he knows that Draco does it on purpose. Actually, no. That’s not the worst thing; the worst thing is that he knows Draco does it on purpose, it embarrasses the hell out of him, and he likes it.

His blood races as the hand in his squeezes tight and then relaxes. “Fine.”

And, just for a moment, Harry stands there perfectly still and basks in the delicious aromas of spices and garlic, the warm buzz of chatter, the feeling of not-Draco’s palm against his and the unmistakeable pleasure of having surprised him. Harry would award himself a mental point, but he rather thinks that it’s somewhat of a win-win situation.

“Right then.” Draco resumes scanning the room, and Harry hastens to do the same.

Four person table, obviously... Hermione always chooses fairly attractive people; Ron’s not quite so discerning. He knows that, and Draco doesn’t know that, so surely he has the advantage? Frantically, needing to win, his eyes flick over the customers of the large restaurant. Two there... no. Could be... Harry follows Draco’s eyes to where they’re fixed upon an attractive blond couple; the woman is frowning and picking lint from the man’s jacket.

Draco points. “There.”

Disappointed, Harry’s about to concede victory when his eyes are drawn to the next table over, where an awkward-looking dark-haired man is sitting alone and scrutinising his own reflection in a large, shiny spoon. A large, overstuffed handbag is slung over the empty chair next to him. Harry smiles slowly and shakes his head.

“No. There.” He reaches up and directs Draco’s eyes toward the real Polyjuiced Ron, just in time for not-Hermione to return to the table and take the spoon out of his hand.

“Are you sure?”

“We’ll soon find out, won’t we?”

As they approach the table, Harry fervently hopes he’s right, but then he’s never been wrong before; Draco’s over-confidence should be working to his advantage. To his surprise, Draco doesn’t let go of his hand until the very last second, when the girl looks up and flashes a smile that’s all Hermione.

“You’re here,” she says, as though she half-expected they wouldn’t be. “Hello, Draco,” she adds, addressing him directly, and Draco gives him a look that clearly says, ‘How did she know which of us was me?

Harry returns one that’s simply: ‘It’s Hermione,’ and shrugs.

“Malfoy.”

“Weasley,” Draco returns with an equally neutral tone.

“Looks like I win,” he whispers into Draco’s ear as they settle themselves at the table and busy themselves with their menus.

Draco’s lips curve into a slow smile but he keeps his eyes on his menu. “I’m not too disappointed.”

Harry bites his lip and stares hard at his menu, trying to decide between won ton soup and satay chicken. And not thinking about bathrooms at all. No.

“What did you think of that report I sent you?” Hermione asks, and Harry looks up in confusion before he realises she’s not speaking to him.

Draco grins. “Bullshit.”

Watching out of the corner of his eye, Harry waits, and after a moment, Hermione laughs. “I know. I didn’t put it quite like that, but honestly... they expect people to believe that Azkaban is a better setting for rehabilitation than a therapeutic community? Did you see their sample size?”

Draco snorts derisively and allows Hermione to fill his wine glass, Harry is interested to note. “I did, and it was pathetic.” He leans on his forearms on the table. “By the way, I was meaning to tell you, I found that Valkyrie study you were looking for...”

Finally tearing his eyes away from them, Harry exchanges a long, baffled glance with Ron over the top of their menus. He knows, after all, that they’ve been writing for weeks now, but this is still the first time Hermione and Draco have actually met since... well, for years, anyway. He can’t quite decide if their current odd appearances make it easier or harder for him to reconcile them with the teenagers who hated each other.

“...it’s going to be a rubber-stamping job, Draco, I promise you. You’ll be fine,” Hermione is saying.

“If you say so. Bloody optimist,” mutters Draco.

Ron blinks at Harry. Harry shrugs.

“Anyway, what did you win?” Ron asks with a grin, and Harry is reminded of that fact that, actually, it’s fairly difficult to slip anything past Ron when he’s sober.

“I’m playing the ‘You Don’t Want to Know’ card,” Harry advises, amused to see Ron pale slightly.

Ron shoots one last look at his girlfriend, sighs, and turns back to Harry, launching into an enthusiastic description of his and Rodriguez’s fancy new office.

“Leather chairs and two Floo-points,” he brags.

“Show off.”

“You know it.”

Harry leans back in his chair and sips his wine slowly. It’s not going too badly at all. OK, so Ron and Draco have yet to exchange more than one word, but miracles don’t happen overnight. When the waiter comes to take their orders, Draco doesn’t look away from Hermione, but he hooks his ankle around Harry’s under the table and leaves it there.

“Alright, mate?” Ron asks, spraying Harry lightly with prawn cracker crumbs.

Flicking a glance at Draco, Harry takes in his animated expression and the complicated set-up he’s created with chopsticks, the soy sauce bottle, and a cork in order to explain something to Hermione, who’s nodding thoughtfully and resting a careful finger on top of the cork.

This time, when the warm feeling rushes through him and tugs his lips into a smile, he can’t be sure if it’s because of Draco, or because of Hermione, or because of all of them. It’s still weird... but a good weird.

“Yeah. I’m good.” Harry smirks. “And you’ve got a bit of prawn cracker in your hair.”

**~*~**

“I can’t believe Malfoy can’t do chopsticks. That’s just priceless.”

Harry leans against the bar as they wait to be served in their usual first-stop pub and pulls a face at Ron, though he’d been surprised and amused, too. It’s rare and heartening to find something that Draco isn’t good at, and he understands now why Draco’s eyes had flickered slightly when he’d told him—at the last minute—that they were meeting at a Chinese restaurant. Harry would’ve shown him, too, if he’d asked, but of course he wouldn’t do that.

“In the interests of you two not killing each other, it’d probably be better if you didn’t mention it. Again, anyway,” Harry points out.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Just makes him a bit more human, I suppose.” Ron shrugs and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I’m not going to upset him, you know.”

“Thanks, Ron.” Harry flashes him a grateful smile and turns away to order their drinks. Draco, interestingly enough, stopped after two glasses of wine in the restaurant, and is now drinking blueberry cordial and soda like it’s going out of fashion. “How weird is this for you, on a scale of one to ten?”

Ron laughs. “I don’t know... but what’s making it weirder is sitting there knowing I’m on a night out with Draco Malfoy, and yet he doesn’t look like Draco Malfoy. He looks like some perfectly reasonable bloke I’ve just met.” He takes two of the drinks from Harry and screws his nose up in contemplation. “I think this Polyjuice thing can be a bit of a mind-fuck sometimes.”

Harry grins. “Not just me, then.” And he’s still definitely not thinking about the outcome of his bet with Draco as they return to the table.

“It seems almost like intentional cruelty, denying that extra week,” Hermione is saying, a heavy frown marring her features. “You could have just kept them safe over Christmas... oh, I’m sorry, Draco,” she adds, catching the look on his face.

“It’s alright. And you’re probably right. Bastards.”

And there’s his ‘not bothered’ shrug that doesn’t fool Harry for a second any more; he’s seen it too many times. The shrug combined with the carefully blank expression in Draco’s blue eyes yanks at Harry; without even stopping to think about it, he slides his hand across the table and covers Draco’s hand with his.

Hermione smiles and looks away and there’s a tiny little intake of breath from Ron’s side of the table, but nothing more. No one speaks for what feels like a long time, and the loud background music swells and fills Harry’s senses.

Not-Draco looks up and meets his eyes. Smiles. Just a little bit, but it’s enough; it’s enough that Harry knows he’s comforted, and that it’s OK to comfort him, and it feels wonderful.

“Speaking of Christmas,” Ron says, all eyes sliding to him. Harry leaves his hand where it is. If Ron and Hermione can touch each other, which they frequently do, he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t touch Draco. “What’s the plan? Now that you and Mum have talked and everything... I mean, you’re still coming, aren’t you? For Christmas Day?”

Harry hesitates, completely thrown by the question. Ron’s eyebrows are lifted in enquiry and his eyes are slightly anxious, but Harry doesn’t quite know how to answer him. The truth is, he’s been so caught up in Draco’s plans and the end of Chem Dep, and... well, just Draco, to have given it much thought. Until a few days ago, he hadn’t been on speaking terms with Mrs Weasley, but now he is, of course, and he’s spent Christmas at the Burrow ever since leaving school.

But now there’s Draco. Draco, who hasn’t spent a Christmas Day without his Chem Dep in five years. Draco, whose best friend is a Weasley and therefore definitely won’t be spending the day with him. Draco, who Harry loves, and who he doesn’t want to have to spend the day rattling around the cold Manor with his equally cold mother.

Draco, who says nothing but slides his little finger over the tips of Harry’s at an awkward angle as if to say ‘I’m still here.’

“Harry?” Ron repeats, looking at him expectantly.

Harry glances quickly at Draco. The strange blue eyes pin him with equal expectation and Harry finds himself suddenly wanting to push back his chair and escape. Hermione is watching the whole scene in silence from the other side of the table, wide-eyed over the top of her glass.

“Er,” says Harry. “I’m not really sure right now, Ron.”

“You always come to The Burrow for Christmas,” Ron insists, frowning and looking into his Firewhisky.

Draco coughs. “I know we haven’t exactly discussed it, but I hope you know you have an invitation to the Manor.” Pauses. “Perhaps you didn’t. But we’d like to have you.”

His voice is slightly stiff, almost formal. Harry’s almost certain that Narcissa wouldn’t like to have him, in spite of his recent gift-giving and adherence to her stupid etiquette. He’s equally certain that there’s no invitation to the Burrow for Draco, not this year at least. Not that Draco would accept one anyway; Ron and Hermione are one thing, a packed houseful of Weasleys and their assorted offspring is quite another.

Frustrated, he exhales slowly and stares the table. When he looks up again, Ron and Draco have both stopped looking at him and are instead staring at each other. Though their stares carry nowhere near the levels of malice they used to, both his best friend’s and his lover’s expressions are confrontational enough for Harry to seriously consider wet-fish hexing them both.

“I asked him first, Malfoy,” Ron offers. Hermione rolls her eyes and elbows him lightly.

The fingers underneath Harry’s curl against the table and he can almost hear Draco telling himself over and over that he promised to be nice to Ron.

“I think he can choose for himself, Weasley,” he says evenly, and even in the midst of his irritation and indecision, Harry has to admire his self control.

Harry glances between them one more time and pushes his free hand through his strange curls, tipping his head back to look at the ceiling.

“Listen, why don’t we talk about something else,” Hermione attempts. “I’m sure Harry will—”

“Harry would like it if everyone stopped talking about him like he wasn’t here,” he interrupts. “Ron, Draco... please don’t argue about me, for fuck’s sake.” He looks around at his friends, exasperated. Wanting not only to diffuse the tension but also to change the subject, as he’s not entirely sure what he’s going to do yet. “I know you haven’t always got on, but I kind of thought that liking me was something you could agree on.”

Ron drains his glass and looks up with a slightly sheepish expression on his face. “Yeah, I suppose. Sorry, mate,” he adds, linking his fingers with Hermione’s.

“No doubt we can find something else to argue about, can’t we, Weasley?” Draco grins, and Harry wonders what he’s just done.

**~*~**

By the time they reach the Dragon and Snitch, it’s after eleven. Harry is quietly impressed that everyone is in one piece; he and Hermione are slightly on the merry side, Draco is more or less sober and Ron is well into the mumbling and squinting phase. The pub is hot, dark, glitter-drenched and even more packed than usual as it’s the last Friday before Christmas; as a result, Harry thinks he’s completely justified in the use of a bit of subtle repelling magic to bag their usual corner table.

Despite being surrounded by gaudy reminders of the imminent festive season, the Christmas Day issue is avoided by all, and Harry is relieved. He doesn’t want to let his family and best friends down, but the thought of not being with Draco scrapes at his heart and he knows he’s going to have to come to some sort of compromise.

All things considered, he thinks as he watches Draco thoroughly question his friends about the specifics of the second-year Polyjuice incident, it’s really quite nice to be wanted by so many people. The memories of Christmases at Hogwarts and those before rush into his head; he curls his lip and shakes off the ones containing the Dursleys with some effort. That’s gone now, he reminds himself firmly.

He hears Hermione say his name, and Draco turns to him, an incredulous smile stretching that handsome but foreign face. He can’t wait to have his Draco back when they get home.

“Didn’t you, Harry?” she says.

“Er, yeah,” he agrees, having no idea what he’s confirming, but not caring too much. “My round, I think.”

“I’ll come with you.” Hermione stands to follow him.

Harry hesitates just long enough for Draco to shoot him a withering look, effectively killing his concern over leaving the two of them on their own before it’s even fully formed.

“They’re grown-ups... mostly. We can leave them for two minutes,” Hermione sighs, and he has no choice but to follow her.

Factoring in the crush at the bar, it’s closer to ten minutes by the time they fight their way back to the table, drinks held carefully aloft to avoid spillage. As Draco and Ron loom into view, Harry groans.

“I knew it.” He nudges Hermione, and she follows his eyes and sighs.

Draco and Ron are now sitting on adjacent chairs and are blatantly in the middle of an argument. Draco’s eyes are narrowed, hands gesturing wildly, and Harry doesn’t need to be able to hear him—which he can’t—to know that his voice is raised. Ron’s arms are folded and he’s shaking his head with an expression of alcohol-exaggerated disbelief on his face.

They hurry to cover the remaining distance to the table, setting drinks down and pulling up chairs as the disagreement rages on. Harry only hopes it’s not about the war or either of their families, because he’s really not in the mood.

“Bollocks, Malfoy.” Ron glares lopsidedly. “You are talking out of your arse.”

“I fucking am not, Weasel. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain.”

“I know what you’re suggesting...” Ron stabs a finger in Draco’s direction.

“I’m not suggesting anything, other than the fact that I’m telling the truth, and that’s the end of it.”

Harry and Hermione exchange cautious glances.

“I don’t know anyone who worked it out,” Ron insists hotly. “That’s what makes it so brilliant!”

Draco rakes an impatient hand through his hair. “I’m not saying it wasn’t, Weasley. I enjoyed it. I’m just saying that it’s perfectly possible to have worked it out. Didn’t you ever wonder why he never changed his clothes?”

“I wasn’t looking at his clothes. I don’t care what people are wearing.”

Harry waits for the ‘Well, obviously’, that never comes, but Draco’s pause and raised eyebrow more than make up for the absence of the comment.

Instead, Draco leans forward on crossed arms. “Alright. But no one ever talked to him except for the little boy. The whole time. His own wife never spoke to him. Weasley, no one could see him. And why was that? Because he was dead.”

“I know that! But you’re not supposed to figure it out the first time you see it, and I don’t believe for one second that you did, you bloody... Slytherin,” Ron finishes, somewhat slurrily but with feeling.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Hermione sighs, having clearly worked out at the same time as Harry what the hell the argument is about.

They both jump slightly, having been so immersed in their disagreement that they’d failed to notice their partners returning.

Harry, for one, is amused. “I didn’t know you liked Muggle films, Draco.” He frowns. “You didn’t even know how to work my toaster.”

Draco picks up his drink, brow furrowed. “What has that got to do with anything? I have house-elves to make toast. Films are entertaining. I have been to the cinema, you know,” he says, somewhat proudly.

Ron is still scowling. “I still don’t believe you. ’Mione didn’t even guess it. Tell him, ’Mione.”

“You believe me, don’t you?” Draco appeals, touching Harry’s thigh and blinking wide blue eyes at him.

Harry just smiles and gulps at his drink. He wouldn’t put it past Draco, but then again, he wouldn’t put it past Draco to lie in order to wind Ron up, either.

“Want to know what I think?” Hermione offers. They nod eagerly. “You’re both pathetic.”

Harry snorts into his glass and picks stray glitter from the sleeve of his shirt, waiting to see what they’ll do. And then something extraordinary happens.

“I don’t think that’s very nice, do you, Weasley?” Draco’s tone and expression are politely solicitous as he turns to Ron and holds out his hand expectantly.

Ron blinks in confusion for a second or two before obediently passing his full glass of Firewhisky to Draco. Harry watches, astonished, as Draco gulps half of the contents down and then hands the glass back. Ron inspects the glass carefully for a moment and then carries on drinking from it.

“No, Malfoy,” he says gravely. “It’s not very nice at all.”

Draco, one hand still resting warm on Harry’s thigh, smiles. And Ron, swaying slightly, smiles back.

Though completely sideswiped, a smile steals across Harry’s face as he turns to look at Hermione, who is reflecting his astonishment right back to him.

“Think we’ll go soon,” she whispers, neatly echoing Harry’s instinctive desire to quit while they’re ahead this time. He nods.

As they all stand to leave, Hermione enfolds Harry in a tight hug, pressing her fragrant hair under his nose and whispering, “Don’t worry about the Christmas thing, we’ll sort something out.”

Grateful and slightly unsteady now he’s vertical again, he squeezes her tightly. “Thanks, ’Mione.”

“Malfoy!” Ron cries, causing Harry’s eyes to snap open. Thank Merlin the music is still pounding away at an ear-splitting volume; the last thing Draco needs is to have his presence announced to the baying Friday night crowds. “Malfoy... you lie... but... it’s alright. Harry likes you.” Ron whacks Draco on the arm hard enough to make him jump and then grins, allowing Hermione to grab his hand and gently pull him toward the exit.

Draco blinks repeatedly and slowly raises a hand in answer to Hermione’s parting wave. “Goodbye,” he says, apparently to himself, as Harry watches him. If he’s honest, Harry’s just relieved that Ron didn’t say anything about ferrets.

“Ready to go?” He gently lays a hand on Draco’s shoulder, burying his nose in the soft brown hair that still smells of Draco, feeling him relax.

Draco doesn’t reply but when he turns around to face Harry, the sudden intensity in those blue eyes sends an acute thrill through Harry’s gut. Slowly, not-Draco runs his tongue over a bottom lip that’s slightly thinner than usual. The flashing fairy lights above cast multi-coloured shadows over the face that isn’t quite right but the gesture is all Draco, as are the arms snaking around his waist, and Harry’s confused.

“No, I don’t want to go just yet,” not-Draco whispers against his cheek, drawing him closer, breath hot against his skin. Breath that’s scented sweet like fake blueberries and sour like stolen Firewhisky.

“Why not?” Harry’s head is starting to spin and he hangs on tight to Draco’s belt loops.

“Because I always keep my promises, Harry.” The blue eyes flood with black and Harry’s breath hitches as he understands, remembers, through the haze of alcohol and the strange new anxiety of the whole night.

Draco-not-Draco wants to suck him off in the bathroom of the Dragon and Snitch. And, oh, fuck... Draco’s not Draco and he’s not him. Which is weird. Surely? It’s... weird. Harry stares at the man in front of him; he’s attractive enough, but Harry doesn’t think it’s his face that’s making him harden against his hip and making his blood thunder in his veins. He doesn’t want... whoever that is. He wants Draco.

Wants. Oh. Draco kisses the corner of his mouth so softly that he shivers.

“It’s just me, Harry. It’s me in here. And I want you.” Harry’s eyes fall closed as he forgets completely where he is, feeling nothing but the soft press of that mouth against his, filling his chest with a slow ache that’s both pleasurable and guilty at once. I shouldn’t, his mind whispers, just as Draco licks his ear and breathes: “Only you. I only want you,” or does he imagine it?

He’s hard, too, Harry can feel it. Maybe if he just keeps his eyes closed...

“Fuckin’ ‘ell, get a room!” someone yells, and when Harry snaps his eyes open to see, one of a passing group of young girls is leering and grinning at them. And then it hits him, breaking over him again like a wave—they’re just two men. That’s what everyone’s seeing. Not Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter. Just two silly men in love with each other enough to kiss in a pub full of people on a Friday night in December, and perhaps, Harry thinks, two men who want each other enough to do something a bit weird in a public place just because they feel like it.

Impulsively, he grins at not-Draco and grins wider at his surprised smile. “Come on, then.”

He isn’t entirely sure how they navigate the dark, crowded, smoke-heavy space, only that he knows where they’re going and Draco doesn’t, and that the press of warm, damp skin against his palm keeps him pushing and weaving through the mass of bodies with steely determination.

The bathroom isn’t an unpleasant one, but it smells of fake pine and Cleaning Spells and sweat, and the tiles inside the cubicle are freezing cold even through Harry’s shirt as he’s pushed up against them.

Draco’s hand lifts to stroke through his hair in a careful gesture that’s completely at odds with their seedy location; Harry sighs softly, turning his head and staring, frowning, at the clean, unblemished skin of Draco’s inner forearm. His stomach flutters oddly at the sight—the absence—and he closes his eyes again firmly, turning back and reaching blindly for a kiss that Draco gives instantly.

The kiss soothes him, bruising with familiarity, and sparking the desire easily; he tangles his tongue eagerly with Draco’s, just feeling, and arches off the wall into the palm that’s suddenly pressing against his erection.

“Draco, god, fuck.” Harry mumbles against the hot, slick mouth, hissing as Draco’s hand slips inside both layers of clothing and wraps around his cock. Still, he doesn’t want to open his eyes and not see the man he loves touching him, so he doesn’t, because the touch is real, and it’s OK. “Draco,” he whispers, needing to hear the name as that hand slides expertly over his hard flesh again and again. “Draco, Draco, Draco.”

“Me, Harry,” he whispers back, trailing kisses along Harry’s jaw with slow, painful tenderness. “Just me.”

Harry whimpers and clutches him hard, head still spinning. As he feels Draco move away from his neck, he’s torn utterly between wanting that trail of kisses all over his skin like always, and not wanting Draco to want to kiss him like that while he’s wearing someone else’s skin. His body, as usual, betrays him completely and just wants. Likes it, and wants.

It’s just a soft trail of fingertips, though, and then he feels Draco’s warm breath against his cock; through the warm haze of ‘oh, fuck yes’, as he’s taken into a hot, wet mouth, he thinks, hopes, that it means maybe Draco is as daft as he is. Maybe...

That mouth is almost right, almost, almost, and it feels good... sliding his fingers into Draco’s hair and keeping his eyes squeezed so tight shut that little lights dance behind his eyelids, and that tongue swipes over his cock, aching, so good, and one hand comes up to thread fingers through his and he hangs on.

“Oh... Draco, please,” he whines, biting his lip to keep quiet, and something hurts. He can’t help thinking that’s not right, but the wet, firm slide on his cock takes the edge off and soon it stops hurting everywhere else and he doesn’t think about it any more until:

“Harry, look at me.”

And he’s stopped. Harry shakes his head. “No, I can’t.”

“Trust me,” Draco whispers, circling a thumb over the wet, sensitized head of his cock; he jerks, hips twitching off the wall and suddenly his eyes are open and staring down into warm silver-grey ones.

It’s worn off. Of course. He’s him, and Draco’s Draco.

“Hi,” he whispers back, mouth stretched wide with the sudden relief of it, heart clenching and eyes stinging as his whole body is swept up in a tide of desire and pleasure and adoration.

Draco’s hand tightens around Harry’s, and his little half-smile belongs to him once more. “Mm,” Draco murmurs, taking Harry’s cock back into his mouth—yes, that’s better, that’s right—and staring up at Harry the entire time, grey eyes hungry and pale hair gleaming in the soft light as Harry sifts his fingers through it and gives himself up to Draco’s mouth and tongue.

He can’t tear his eyes away from the grey ones now he has them back, and it’s a while before he notices Draco’s hand moving frantically over his own cock as he crouches on the floor, but when he does, the sight, the sound of flesh on flesh and the fact that Draco’s getting himself off right there overloads Harry’s senses and he comes hard and fast into Draco’s mouth, staring down into those eyes and releasing a strangled cry that echoes in the empty bathroom.

Silver irises turn impossibly darker and the hand in Harry’s grips hard enough to bruise as Draco shoots his release all over his fist and the floor, teeth digging hard into his bottom lip and flushing beautifully.

Breathless, Harry casts Cleaning Spells and gently pulls him to his feet. Everything’s a bit blurry, which could be the alcohol, could be the orgasm, and could be the fact that he needs his glasses again.

Once again, he finds himself bracketed against the wall by Draco’s forearms, and once again, he turns his head to look. The familiar faded black lines are back, and he’s as pleased to see them as he is to see grey eyes and blond hair and pale skin. Bewildered, Harry frowns and wonders what that means.

Deciding not to think, he sticks his tongue out and gently licks Draco’s skin from inside of elbow to inside of wrist, relishing the taste of citrus-salt on his lips as he turns back to meet Draco’s eyes.

“What’re you doing?” Draco whispers. Harry doesn’t know why he’s whispering but it feels nice.

“Just... nice to have you back,” he whispers, too.

“Sap.” Draco smiles and flattens Harry’s hair against his forehead. He kisses slowly, as though he’s trying to work something out; Harry lets him, enjoying the coolness of the wall at his back and the warmth of Draco’s body pressed against his front. Harry wraps a possessive arm around his waist, tasting himself in the kiss.

“I meant what I said,” Draco says eventually, pulling back two or three inches and looking at the floor. “I only want you.”

Harry’s breath catches as he’s now the one to force Draco to look at him. The defiant shimmer of his eyes speaks volumes and Harry knows just how hard that was for him to say.

“I only want you, as well. That was interesting, but I...” Harry hesitates, considers, and then decides to just say it. “I prefer you, er, exactly as you are. Now, I mean. Not... you know what I mean.”

Draco quirks a dry smile, but his hand once more slides down and grips Harry’s tight.

“Good thing someone does, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Draco. It is.”

And it’s not quite ‘I love you’, but it’s more than they’ve managed to say to each other before, and as Harry wraps his arms around Draco and Disapparates, he decides that he’s pretty happy with that.

**~*~**

Having used some of his more useful contacts to get hold of Fyzal, Harry reluctantly opts for discretion over comfort and chooses to Floo over to the Manor on Saturday, after Draco has left for lunch with Ginny. And, he reasons, offering Fyz a pinch of powder from his rarely-used fireplace jar, not only have they less chance of being seen by Narcissa this way, but absolutely zero chance of stealth peacock attacks.

He suspects that Fyzal’s eager offer of assistance is more to do with wanting to have a proper look at the Manor than it is to do with altruism, but he doesn’t suppose it really matters.

Well, I could just give you a list of instructions,’ he’d said, ‘but for best results, I really need to get a good look at your project first hand...’

A startled Flimby stares up at them as they step into the reception room.

“Master Draco is not being here, Harry Potter, Sir.”

“I know. But it’s alright,” Harry says in an attempt to reassure. “We’ve got something to do in the East Wing. This is my friend Fyzal.”

“Flimby is already meeting Mr Fyzal,” the elf advises, eyeing Fyz very carefully.

Harry turns to him. ‘Interview,’ mouths Fyz, looking amused.

The house-elf looks slightly wary. “Flimby will go tell Mistress Narcissa you is here.”

“No!” Harry holds out a hand. “No. That’s alright. It’s... a secret. A surprise, for, er, Master Draco, see?”

Flimby’s huge eyes widen in understanding. “Surprise? To make Master Draco happy?”

“Yes! Exactly.” Harry grins with relief and hefts the magically enlarged and lightened canvas bag over his shoulder. “So, we were never here.” He holds a finger to his lips and ignores Fyzal’s snickering behind him.

“Harry Potter was never here.”

“Thanks, Flimby. Fyz... shut up. East Wing, OK?”

“Right behind you, Mr Harry Potter, Sir,” Fyzal mutters, and Disapparates.

**~*~**

Harry eyes up his chosen location with satisfaction. It’s a large, high-ceilinged alcove in the wide hallway between the new lounge and the room Draco has earmarked for his own personal office. It’s light and clean and perfect for what Harry is quite aware is the oddest Christmas gift he has ever given.

Fyz drops to the floor in a crouch and starts poking through the contents of the dropped bag.

“Do I even want to know what you’re going to do with these?” he enquires, holding up several small, shiny cardboard boxes.

“Never you mind those. We’ve got loads to do before we get to those.” Harry leans against the alcove wall and quirks a wry smile, adding: “You wouldn’t believe the scary shops I had to go into to get those.”

Fyz smirks. Shrugs. Drops the little boxes back into the bag. “I’ve been in a few scary shops in my time.”

“No kidding.”

“Right, then.” Fyz stretches and slides down into a sitting position against the opposite wall, stretching out long legs and crossing one ankle over the other. “Shall we begin?”

Harry stares at him. “That’s your idea of helping? Sitting on the floor?”

Fyz lifts a dark eyebrow. “Supervising,” he corrects. “And it would help if I knew what you were making.”

“I told you. It’s a cupboard. I want to put up lots of shelves and a door and make this—” He throws his arms out, indicating the alcove he’s standing in, “—into a big cupboard.”

Big is an understatement, really. With arms outstretched, Harry’s fingers don’t touch the walls of the deep alcove; even with the shelves up and the door fitted—plus a double-strength Disillusionment Charm for now—it’ll be least three times the size of the one Draco had in Chem Dep.

Fyz rests his head against the wall and looks at Harry askance. “OK. But I suppose the bigger question is... why?”

Releasing a heavy sigh, Harry returns to the bag and empties the contents, restoring each item to its proper size as he goes. “Because it’s Christmas,” he says firmly.

“Riiiight. Nice wood,” Fyz remarks with a completely straight face, though the dark eyes glint when Harry looks up at him.

He runs a palm over the long pieces of beautiful solid beech and chooses not to rise to the bait. Instead, he remembers Ginny’s comments about Fyz and suspects that she might be right.

Good luck, Draco, he thinks. Pauses. Good luck, Not-Malfoy Manor Chem Dep patients, he amends.

Carefully, he levitates the first few shelves into the alcove and regards Fyz over his shoulder.

“This is where you come in. You’re the Construction Charm expert. What’s the best one to use?”

Fyzal’s blank expression isn’t particularly encouraging, but Harry presses on.

“Help me out, Fyz, I haven’t got the faintest idea about this stuff. Ginny said you’d know.”

Finally, the sharp dark eyes flicker and Fyz’s mouth twitches at the corners. He scrambles gracefully to his knees and crouches at the edge of the alcove. “You do not,” he says emphatically, “put up shelves with a charm.”

“You don’t?” Harry asks faintly.

“Absolutely not. Well, technically, you can, but not if you want them to stay put. Most of the Construction Charms are only glorified Sticking Spells. You can’t treat decent wood like that,” Fyz says, and then stops short, looking up at Harry and shaking his head. “And this is the point where I realise I’ve just turned into my father.”

Intrigued, Harry sticks his wand back into his waistband and leans once more against the wall. “Because?”

“He was a carpenter on a mission.” Fyz smiles. “He’s Muggle-born. Never could get his head around the idea of using to magic to make things, he thought it was all wrong. Seeing those lovely beech shelves being installed by magic would make him cry.”

Harry’s surprised, and there’s quite a bit there that he wants to ask about but, as usual, his inner-Hermione speaks up and orders him to prioritise. Closet-building first, curiosity-satisfying later.

“OK. Alright.” He scratches his head and stares at the pile of pale wood. “So...”

The trouble is, he’s almost totally unprepared to do things the Muggle way, his only relevant experience being Aunt Petunia’s short-lived foray into flat-pack furniture, not too long before his eleventh birthday. He seems to remember a lot of splinters, several missing pieces and being sent to his cupboard in disgrace when the finished product didn’t look exactly like the picture on the box.

Harry tells himself firmly that he’s good at lots of things, and it doesn’t matter if this isn’t one of them. He tells himself that it doesn’t make him any less of a man. He tells himself that if Draco could see him right now, he’d probably laugh his arse off.

He doesn’t tell Fyzal any of this. His traitorous little ‘What’s he going to think if Harry Potter can’t manage to put a few shelves up?’ voice echoes in his head and he grimaces.

“... can you?” Fyz is saying, and he’s completely missed it.

“Hmm?”

“I said, why don’t you make some brackets out of these, and some screws out of these?” Fyz indicates one of the lengths of beech and empties a box of paperclips out onto the floor with obvious relish. “I’m pants at Transfiguration, sorry.”

Harry sighs and sets to work. “How come it’s OK to Transfigure stuff but not to use charms?”

Fyz shrugs and rolls up the sleeves of his robes carefully. “I can’t remember exactly. Something about a Transfigured object being a solid base because once it’s Transfigured, the structure of the object is altered. Charms are... transient. Flighty.” Fyz grins.

“I suppose that makes sense.” Harry holds up a shiny screw and turns it this way and that in the light.

As he works, Fyz chats away idly and watches him like a hawk. When Harry moves into the alcove and begins the task of actually fitting the shelves to the walls, the commentary shifts into a stream of barbed criticism. Harry puts up with it for the first ten minutes before his tolerance snaps and he drops the current shelf by one end to the marble floor with a thud.

“OK, then. Get in here and show me how to do it right.”

“What?”

“If you’re going to tell me I’m doing it all wrong, you can come and bloody well help me do it properly. I’m sure I brought you with me for a reason,” he grouses.

Fyz holds his gaze for long seconds before he holds his hands up, gets to his feet and yanks his robes over his head. Looking ludicrously elegant in a plain undershirt and trousers, he joins Harry in the alcove.

“Self control’s a wonderful thing,” he mutters under his breath. “Think before you speak. Engage brain before opening mouth. Restraint is not just for the bedroom.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow and tries not to laugh. Fyz scowls and holds the shelf in place, muttering his bizarre mantra under his breath as he does, though Harry can’t help but think it’s a case of locking the cage door after the Kneazle has already escaped and eaten your hamster.

Still, despite his mutterings, Fyz is surprisingly helpful once engaged, and unsurprisingly, is able to regale Harry with a huge number of entertaining and bizarre stories from his life before Chem Dep. Together, they make good progress, and soon work up a sweat; by lunchtime, the alcove smells of wood and hard work and the pitcher of iced water Flimby provides—still holding one finger theatrically to his lips—is much appreciated.

Curiosity soon gets the better of Harry and he asks Fyzal about his father. He’d always imagined Fyz came from some old, moneyed, pureblood family, and is both surprised and a little ashamed by the preconceptions that must have led him to that conclusion. Though Fyz has grown up with privilege, Mr Caruso, as it turns out, is a self-made man.

“Shame we couldn’t have got an electric drill to work in here,” Fyz muses. “It’s actually easier than doing it with a wand.”

“You don’t know how weird it is to hear you say electric drill,” Harry confides. “I always thought you were as pure-blooded as...”

“Fuck? All-get-out? The day is long?”

Harry grins and wipes his damp forehead with his sleeve. “Something like that, yeah.”

“Yeah, people always think that,” Fyz offers, throwing an ice cube up in the air and catching it in his mouth with a flourish. “Natural class, eh?”

Harry snorts. “Right, Fyz.”

Fyz leans against the wall and gazes down at Harry, who’s sitting on the floor with his knees drawn up. “Well, Seb always says it’s because I act like a twat, and that’s how everyone expects purebloods to act. Except other purebloods, of course.”

Harry smiles at the splinter-scattered floor and awards mental points to Seb, wherever he is. “Seb’s a smart man.”

Failing to rise to the implied insult, Fyz just smirks. “I know. Gives good head, too.”

Harry looks up so sharply that he bangs his head on the nearest low shelf. “More than I needed to know, Fyz.”

“There’s no such thing as too much information.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Harry Potter, I think you’re a little bit weird.”

Harry drags himself to his feet and grabs the next shelf from the floor. “That’s alright,” he says. “So’s Draco.”

Fyzal takes the other end and arches an eyebrow. “He is if he wants a cupboard full of paperclips for Christmas.”

“Not just paperclips,” Harry insists. “There are other things as well. Believe me,” he adds, casting a baffled glance at the huge pile of assorted... items he’s acquired to fill the shelves. “Accio screw.”

**~*~**

Sunday is Christmas Eve and the afternoon is pleasantly sunny despite the biting chill in the air. It’s a great day for a walk; unfortunately, though, Harry’s twelve-hour shift starts in less than thirty minutes. The usual shift patterns have been cast out the window during Christmas week, and everyone seems to be working harder and longer than usual. He’s done well to snag the 25th and 26th off, even though a little part of him suspects that working would be easier than trying to split his time between Draco and the Weasleys.

Which still sounds really weird in his head. Harry exhales noisily into the cold air and pulls his coat more tightly around him; he picks up his pace as he approaches the Manor, the bag in his hand swaying and banging against his knee.

As the stately building looms into view, Harry allows a smile of almost-triumph spread across his face. Nearly there now, and no sign of his good friend Evil Peacock. The malevolent bugger has definitely taken exception to Harry and has now ambushed him so many times that he’s given up counting in disgust. Looks like today is a good day, though.

Still, never hurts to be careful. “Constant vigilance,” Harry mutters to himself, striding across the last stretch of gravel, eyes darting furtively from side to side, scanning for movement.

He’s so caught up in his surveillance exercise that he fails to notice Draco until he’s almost on top of him.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?”

Draco is leaning on one of the grand stone pillars at the front entrance of the Manor, arms crossed. The little thrill of pleasure Harry receives just from seeing him is at odds with his planned defensiveness, and his reply is delivered with an odd combination of smile and scowl.

“Trying not to get my arse or my leg or my fingers bitten.” At Draco’s raised eyebrow, he steps closer and elaborates: “Evil bastard peacock.”

“You’re paranoid.”

Harry does scowl this time, flinging his arms out for emphasis. “I’m not! It’s not paranoia if the peacock really has got it in for you!”

Draco smiles slowly, unruffled by Harry’s frustration. “Have you ever considered that perhaps it’s just a particularly misanthropic peacock?” Pushing off the pillar, he flashes Harry a brilliant, bright smile that stops him in his tracks. “Really, you’re personalising this. You’re worse than a patient.”

“Yeah, well, I—” Movement snags Harry’s peripheral vision and he spins around to watch a nearby bush give an ominous rattle. When he turns around again, he’s forgotten what he wanted to say and Draco is rolling his eyes.

“I thought you were working today.” He eyes the bag in Harry’s hand. “What did you bring me?”

Harry smirks and yanks it back away from Draco’s twitching fingers. “Gifts. For your mother and her not-dog. And my shift starts in a few minutes.”

“You bought a Christmas gift for my mother’s Crup?” Draco’s eyes flood with curiosity. “Wait... you bought a Christmas gift for my mother?”

“I’ve brought her a gift every time I’ve been here, practically,” Harry points out. “It’d be a bit weird if I didn’t, wouldn’t it? It’s only a book, anyway.”

Draco reaches out and flattens the lapel of Harry’s coat, breath clouding before him as he thinks. “A book... for admiration?” He pauses, eyes sliding to Harry’s again. “Intellectual equals?”

Harry shuffles in place, unsure how to answer the question. He can feel the warmth of Draco’s hand through his coat. The cold air rips at the inside of his nose and throat. It’s not that he hadn’t thought over the particular significance of every item he’d considered and rejected for Mrs Malfoy, but all the same, Cecile had assured him that the neat strata of pureblood gift-giving were irrelevant during the festive season.

Still, a compliment—and one that’s neutral and oblique enough not to seem disingenuous—can’t be a bad thing, surely?

“You said she liked literature,” Harry says eventually, because Draco had said that, and he had remembered it. “And,” he adds after a moment, “I know she doesn’t like me much, but I do think she’s an intelligent lady.”

Draco’s eyes flicker and his hand slides from Harry’s lapel to curl warmly around the back of his neck. “She doesn’t really do Christmas any more. But I think she’d appreciate that.”

“Good.”

Harry allows himself to be tugged closer and softly kisses Draco’s cold lips. The fingers that tighten almost painfully around his hip tell him what Draco won’t say about this awkward back-and-forth dance between his mother and his lover. They don’t discuss it, but Harry knows that Draco watches and notices; the bruising hold on his hip, the warm, opening mouth and flickering tongue against his express silent gratitude and astonishment that Harry feels and swallows and doesn’t quite know what to do with.

Finally, Draco steps away again and leans back against the stone pillar, affecting nonchalance. He looks so dazed and uncomplicated just then, eyes bright and skin cold-pinked, that it’s a struggle for Harry to keep the words from bursting messily out of his chest. But he does.

“Where’s mine, anyway?” Draco asks, changing tack. One eyebrow flicks upward and his expression is transformed; the stupid messy ache in Harry’s chest just worsens at the sight.

“Tomorrow,” Harry promises, grinning. “I’m going to crash out for a few hours at my place after work, then do lunch at the Burrow and then... I’m all yours.”

“I know. Aren’t I lucky?” Draco takes the bag from Harry’s hand and grins back suddenly. “Got time to come in for a bit?”

Harry hesitates, pushing hands into his pockets, the scritch of his shrunken work robes against his fingertips nagging guiltily at him. “I don’t know. Do I really want to enrage Tremellen?”

“Definitely.” Draco yanks open the huge, heavy door and stalks inside, bag dangling from one finger.

Harry shrugs and follows him.

**~*~**

If Harry had thought the last few days had been busy, by ten pm on Christmas Eve, he’s ready to take all of that back. And then some.

Other than the patients, he doesn’t think he’s seen anyone standing still for more than two seconds at a time. The wards and corridors are hot, crowded, and stuffy; the air smells of an obnoxious mixture of lavender, pine, vomit and stress-sweat and he really needs to stop and Scourgify his robes, but if it’s a choice between that and ducking into the canteen for a caffeine fix, he knows his robes are going to have to wait.

Emerging from the examination room, ushering his last clinic patient before him, clutching a potion bottle, Harry watches wearily as his name on the board shimmers and shifts to form ‘Healer Spencer’. Grateful for the reprieve, he finds a weary smile for the harassed-looking blond man who takes the patient list from him and claps him on the shoulder.

“All yours,” Harry offers, rubbing gritty eyes and stretching.

“You shouldn’t have,” the other Healer remarks with a dry smile. “Mrs Fisher?” he yells, turning.

Harry hastens to Disapparate, half-afraid that someone will grab him and give him something to do if he doesn’t hurry. And he hasn’t stopped yet.

Diagnose, treat, reassure. Crash, run, cast. Diagnose, treat, answer relatives’ questions. Consult, advise, get covered in glitter. Apparate, run, avoid fucking mistletoe.

He’s stopped counting now, but there’s a good chance that plays of ‘White Christmas’ are well into double figures. And it’s playing in the canteen, too. Joy.

As he turns away from the counter and contemplates applying a Cooling Charm to his coffee so that he can just gulp it down in one go, he almost bangs into Cecile, who looks like she’s having a similar thought. She and Terry are both working the Christmas Eve late shift, but he hasn’t yet spoken to either of them, which really speaks for how frantic it is.

She smiles, eyes tired. “You look like shit.”

“So do you.”

Cecile laughs shortly. “I haven’t even got the energy to hex you, which is pretty worrying.” She drags a hand through her messy hair and sighs. “I’m stuck on Gen One with Tremellen. Have been all night.”

In spite of everything, Harry can’t suppress a sympathetic wince. “Clinic,” he offers. “You win. Buy yourself something with lots of sugar in it,” he adds, flicking a Sickle into the air, which Cecile catches easily.

“You’re not getting this back, you know,” she says, dropping it into her robe pocket and leaning briefly against the counter with one eye closed.

“Fair enough.” Reluctantly, Harry casts the spell to cool his coffee and gulps at it, grimacing.

“Two more hours and it’ll be Christmas,” Cecile muses, both eyes closed now.

“Fucking Christmas,” Harry mutters.

“Don’t let El catch you saying that. What did you decide to do, anyway? Are you going to the Malfoys’?”

Harry watches Cecile drink coffee with her eyes shut, melted against the counter as though it’s the first time she’s been stationary all night; in all actuality, it probably is, too.

“Not straightaway. Lunch with the Weasleys first. You?”

Cecile smiles slowly and cracks open one green eye. “Just the usual Mackenzie family extravaganza. You know... archaic—”

“—pureblood crap?”

“Exactly.”

Harry drains the last of his coffee. It tastes vile but he can feel the lift already, and when Cecile groans and unpeels herself from the counter, he takes a deep breath, wishes her luck with not killing Tremellen and Apparates back onto the ward.

“There you are, Healer Potter,” says an unfamiliar nurse the second his feet touch the floor. She thrusts a chart into his hands and scurries away without another word.

Harry bends his head to study the notes and a silver glitter bauble explodes down the back of his neck.

**~*~**

Four hours later, Harry strides into his last new patient’s room, relief and exhaustion lightening his steps. Just this one, he thinks, just this one and a quick round of the others and then I can go home.

Home alone, unfortunately, but he knows he’ll never drag himself to the Burrow if he’s got a warm, naked Draco in his bed. And, for once, he suspects he’ll have no problem sleeping; he’s going to be out like a light after tonight.

It’s a four-bed room and the other occupants are sleeping, which is pretty impressive considering the melee outside; Harry wonders if it’s true that some of the other Healers administer Sleeping Potions when they don’t need to, just to keep patients quiet. He really hopes not, but it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

With this thought half-formed in his mind, he vaguely scans the chart for the patient’s name as he approaches the bed, speaking softly.

“Hello, Ms Vane. I’m Healer Potter, and...” Harry looks up, forcing a smile for his patient, and falters.

He knows her. Large dark eyes blink slowly at him in the soft light and he frowns, glancing back at the chart. His memory flickers obligingly and provides snatches of the Gryffindor common room and those same dark eyes following him carefully.

Vane, R. -- D.o.B. 25/06/81.

Didn’t she used to be the girl who kept trying to feed him love potions back at school? Fucking hell.

“Romilda?” He raises questioning eyes back to hers. “Romilda Vane?”

“Yes. I hope you won’t hold it against me,” she replies with a weary smile.

Surprised, Harry smiles back and draws closer to the bed. He looks down at her, arms wrapped around the chart. “Of course not, I—” Harry is distracted from his assertion that of course, he’s a professional, etc., etc., by a soft sleepy whimper from behind him.

Turning, his eyes fall on a small, caramel-haired child, covered in a thick blanket and curled easily into the large, squashy chair at Romilda’s bedside. One small hand stretches and curls over the edge of the blanket, but the child doesn’t wake.

“Who’s this?” Harry asks, dropping his voice.

“It’s alright, he sleeps like the dead.” Romilda stretches out a pale hand and strokes the hair from the child’s forehead. “His name’s Clive. He’s my son.”

Harry just nods silently and watches them for a moment. Moved, despite his fatigue; there’s something bleak about the small child curled up in a chair at his sick mother’s side at two in the morning on Christmas Day. He sees sad things every day—in theory, enough to desensitize him, but he still finds himself affected. Throat dry, he picks once more through the notes in front of him.

Sickness, stiff joints, exhaustion... the list goes on, and apparently, no one in the first-line Diagnostics Team has been able to figure out what’s wrong, so she’s been shunted here to Gen One with her child in tow. Harry sighs and decides to run the usual tests anyway, just in case something’s been missed. It’ll make him feel better to do so, and tests usually reassure the patient, too.

“The nurses keep asking me if there isn’t someone else who can take care of him,” Romilda says as the room is pervaded by the scent of lavender.

“Isn’t there?” Harry says distractedly, eyes flicking between the flickering lines of light.

“No.” Her voice is so sharp that Harry looks up from his test and meets her eyes. “My family’s dead. And I don’t know where his dad is. I don’t even know his last name.”

Harry chews on his lip, trying to process her words. He doesn’t really know what to say to that; in all honesty, in the back of his head he’s still struggling to reconcile this serious young woman with the giggly girl who’d followed him everywhere in his sixth year of school. Clive looks to be at least three or four, so she must have been pretty young when she...

“Sorry, it’s not your fault,” she adds, interrupting his thoughts. “I just... I was fed up of them asking. He’s alright here, isn’t he?”

Harry snaps to attention and hurriedly recasts the charm he’s accidentally released. “Yeah. Of course he is; he’s fine. I’m sorry, too. About your family.”

A brief smile, and she’s leaning back against the pillow, spilling long dark hair over white cotton.

Clive sleeps on, and Harry casts test after test, becoming increasingly frustrated as he finds nothing at all wrong, even though there quite obviously is. A twenty-two-year-old woman shouldn’t be experiencing these symptoms.

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one,’ he recites silently, recalling the only useful advice Tremellen has ever given him.

“Have you been to Dark Arts?” Harry asks, thinking out loud and flipping through the chart again.

“Yep.” Romilda yawns and picks at her sheets. “They couldn’t find anything either.”

“OK. I’m afraid we can’t do much more than observe for the moment.”

She turns her head and smiles ruefully. Harry replaces her chart at the end of the bed.

“Alright, Healer. Healer Potter, hmm? Check you out.” She yawns again and Harry starts to retreat toward the door. “By the way... you and Malfoy? Didn’t see that one coming.”

Harry pauses, wondering which way this is going to go. He’s learned to just let patients get on with it, if they have some opinion or other on the matter, because it’s actually quicker than trying to shut them up. “Yeah... well, there it is.” He shrugs.

Romilda strokes her son’s hair gently and smiles in the semi-darkness. “I used to really bloody fancy you at school. If only I’d known.” She yawns. “Could’ve saved myself a lot of time.”

“Yeah, so could I,” Harry sighs. Shakes himself and stands up straight. “I’m sorry about all this waiting, Romilda.”

She closes her eyes. “It’s alright. Not like we’ve anywhere to be.”

Harry slips out of the room, trying to remember if there isn’t a test he’s missed. It’s not until he’s halfway along the corridor that he remembers the collection of bags he’d half-noticed under Clive’s chair, and realises with a stab of sadness that what she actually meant was, ‘We haven’t anywhere to go.’

Just sometimes, this job is extremely fucking depressing. He exhales messily, trades a long-suffering glance with Cecile as she passes him in the corridor at impressive speed, and pulls his head together for his last quick round before home.

Home-sleep-shower-food-Draco. Merry Christmas.

**~*~**

“Healer Potter.”

The deep voice echoes in the corridor and Harry stops dead, closing his eyes briefly. He has one more ward to check. Just one more and he can go home. And it’s for that reason that his gut tells him whatever Tremellen wants cannot be good.

He turns, unsurprised that the man is now right behind him. “Yes, Healer Tremellen?”

“I know your shift is supposed to be ending soon, but I’m afraid we’re going to need you to stay.”

“Stay?” Harry barely stops himself from leaning against the cool wall and giving in to the hot tears of frustration that are prickling behind his eyelids. He was so close. So close. “How long for?”

Long enough, he imagines, to ensure that he won’t have time for any sleep at all and will end up passing out in Molly’s trifle.

Tremellen’s moustache twitches. “I have no way of saying that, Healer Potter. You’ve seen for yourself how things are at the moment. The point is, three of the Healers from this next shift have called in sick, I am running the floor this morning and I need you to stay.”

Harry grits his teeth and drags a long, hard breath in through his nose. He just should have known.

“I see,” he says, politeness hanging by a thread. He wouldn’t care if Tremellen was being completely reasonable, he’s so fucking tired. He wants his bed, and something to eat, and Draco, not necessarily in that order. “And there isn’t...”

“Anyone else?” Tremellen lifts an eyebrow. “Healer Potter, look around you. It can’t have escaped even your notice that we are stretched to breaking point. Yourself and Healer Mackenzie are the only ones available who do not have children. And I need both of you to stay.”

“I’m not available,” he mutters before he can stop himself. I’ve been here for twelve hours and I’m very much not available for any more. Even as he stares mutinously at Tremellen, though, he knows he’s going to agree anyway, because what else can he do?

It would help if the prat didn’t look so much like he was enjoying this. “I suggest you go and get a cup of coffee,” he offers, ignoring Harry, and his voice almost sounds kind, until: “It’s going to be a long night, and I want your mind here, and not on your waster of a boyfriend. Don’t think that I didn’t notice that you were late in today.”

He shoots Harry a meaningful look, and Harry actually feels the moment the fragile thread snaps inside him. It’s not the caustic tone or the lack of gratitude for what he’s asking Harry to do; it’s just one more not-so-sly dig at Draco and he’s had enough.

“Don’t,” he warns, fingers curling into clenched fists at his side.

“Don’t what, Potter?”

“Don’t talk about him. You can ask me to stay... you can tell me to stay, you can rip me for being late—yeah, I was. Fifteen minutes. I’m sorry. You can imply that I’m stupid, and/or incompetent. That’s fine. That’s your prerogative. But I don’t have to listen to you saying those things about Draco. So, with respect, please... stop it. Now.” Harry drags in a sharp breath. “Healer Tremellen,” he adds.

Tremellen stares down at him, nostrils flared and moustache quivering. All Harry hears are the squeak of nurses’ shoes on polished concrete and the tinny jangle of carols from above as he gets a handle on his flash of rage and wonders for the millionth time why he lets Tremellen wind him up like this.

“Healer Potter,” he begins, voice dangerously low, and Harry finds himself thinking that at least if he gets sacked on the spot he’ll be able to go to bed. Immediately. Merry fucking Christmas. “Trauma,” he adds curtly.

“Excuse me?” Harry blinks, baffled. He’s never seen Tremellen’s face go quite that shade of red before and he unconsciously leans back.

“I need you in the Trauma Ward. And as you quite correctly point out,” he says, recovering some of his trademark smirk, “you will stay until I tell you otherwise.”

With one last hard look, Tremellen Disapparates, leaving Harry rubbing at his tired eyes in the middle of the corridor. He quickly flattens himself against the cool wall when two nurses pelt past him in pursuit of a half-naked, apparently intoxicated patient. He barely notices Cecile until she’s flopping back against the wall next to him.

“That was fucking brilliant,” she sighs, flashing a tired grin as Harry turns his head.

“You think? I think I’ve lost the plot.”

“Meh. The plot’s overrated. He’s had a lot worse coming.” Cecile digs him in the ribs with a pointy elbow. “And, you know, it’s sort of... sweet for you to stand up for Draco like that,” she adds, wrinkling her nose at the word. “Not that I know about these things.”

Harry tips his head back against the wall. For some reason, he’s still at work. And he still has a job, which is good, he supposes. “Of course not, Cecile.”

**~*~**

A large bead of sweat rolls down Harry’s forehead, down his nose and splashes onto the pure white sheets below. He’d forgotten that the Trauma Ward is hotter than the fires of hell even on a normal day, and it doesn’t help that he’s been holding two different Stasis Charms for coming up to forty minutes now.

He can feel his wand hand threatening to shake, but he knows that if he slips even for a second, Healer Aquiline is going to lose the thread of what she’s doing. Casting around for a distraction from the cramp in his arm, he watches her attempt to reverse the horrifying result of two drunken hexes cast at once; when the patient arrived, he’d looked almost like he’d been turned inside out. Less so, now, but it’s intricate work, and Aquiline’s severe features are pinched in concentration.

Either he does let his hand move or the woman is annoyingly perceptive, because she looks up and says, “Five minutes, Healer Potter.”

“Hmm?”

She sheaths her wand and straightens up, easing the kinks from her back. “We’ll stop for five minutes. I need that stasis to hold.”

Harry casts the standard spells and steps away from the bedside, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Healer Aquiline. It’s been a long shift.” And it has, it’s almost eleven am now.

She shakes her head impatiently, waving a bony hand. “Don’t take it personally. I’d say the same to anyone.”

Wiping a sleeve across her forehead, Aquiline rests against the windowsill and looks at Harry. He looks back, musing on how rare it is to see Department Heads getting their hands dirty. That being said, the usual rules don’t seem to apply today.

“I’m sorry about the outcome of your appeal, Healer Potter,” she says suddenly.

Surprised and a little irritated, Harry nods. “Mm,” he says. And what do you care?

“For all that it may be worth,” she continues, “you ought to know that not everyone voted against Mr Malfoy’s department in that meeting.”

“What?”

Aquiline’s eyes are piercing. “You needed three votes, which I’m sure you know. You got two.”

Harry’s stomach turns over at the words. So fucking close. He doesn’t know if he feels better or worse for knowing. In an instant, he decides not to tell Draco; he can’t imagine it’ll help to know that he lost everything he’d worked for by such a narrow margin.

Aquiline doesn’t say so, but Harry has no trouble believing that she was one of them.

“Well, that’s... something,” he offers. She nods. “But you know, he’s in the middle of a new project now, so maybe it’s for the best.”

“Perhaps,” she concedes. “But I know that he felt victimized by the board, judged on his past transgressions. We are not all one and the same, Healer Potter. I think Mr Malfoy is a very brave man. Please tell him not to hesitate if he needs any assistance with his new project.”

“What makes you think I’ll see him?” Harry mumbles moodily. Well. He’s tired.

A ghost of a smile flits across Healer Aquiline’s face. “I read the papers.”

Harry sighs. “OK. Has it been five minutes yet?”

Aquiline laughs, and it’s a rather nice sound amongst all the moaning and complaining and singing.

“When you’re ready, Healer Potter.”

**~*~**

As the day wears on, Harry’s cautious optimism about getting to leave the hospital at least some time in the next decade slowly slips away. On the plus side, he sticks with Aquiline and thanks Merlin and anyone else that Tremellen is at the other end of the building picking on someone else. He hopes it’s not still Cecile.

On the other hand, he’s beginning to think that no amount of caffeine will restore his energy (though he’s willing to keep trying). As he hurries from one place to the next, pasting on his automatic professional smile, he can’t quite shake the fantasy of the comfortable sofas and warmth and nice cooking smells at the Burrow, or even better, the one of him and Draco in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place.

That’s a good one, Harry thinks, his hands automatically following Aquiline’s sharp instructions as his mind drifts.

He’s cooking Christmas dinner the Muggle way; Draco’s ‘helping’ by asking lots of questions and pressing himself warm against Harry’s back at the stove, hands slipping under his clothes and mouth nudging Harry’s t-shirt to slip down over one shoulder... curling up in front of the fire with wine and a severe lack of clothing, exploring warm skin under blankets with fingers and tongues and... moving quickly, desperately together right there on the hearth rug, pulling Draco hard into him and calling out his name, not caring... lying together afterwards, looking at the sparkling lights on the tree reflected in warm, sated silver eyes. ‘Love you, Draco,’ and ‘Best Christmas... ever,’ and...

“Switch!” yells Aquiline, and it takes him an extra fraction of a second to realise that she wants him to swap between Heating and Cooling Charms.

He mumbles the incantation and sighs.

No doubt it wouldn’t have been like that, anyway. He’d probably have ended up stuck in that glacial, unfriendly dining ... cavern, up one end of a vast table with Draco and Narcissa bloody Malfoy, not being able to say or do the right thing. Failing at being a pureblood.

That, or he and Draco would have ended up arguing. That’s what he tells himself. If he believes it, he feels just a tiny bit better about being fucking here instead of there.

It’s just a day, he knows that. But... he’s never had someone at Christmas before, and it seems so unfair. Still, this is the job he chose, and he knows he wouldn’t swap it for anything, even when the patient suddenly opens his eyes and throws up all down Harry’s front. Again.

“I’m changing my robes this time,” he mutters, half to Aquiline and half to himself as they finish with the patient and head out into the corridor. He casts a half-arsed Scourgify but after a while, spells can only do so much. “And then I am having a break.”

“Could you just nip outside first?” Eloise grabs his sleeve, having Apparated right in front of him.

“What? Why?”

“There’s someone outside the main entrance wanting to speak to you.” Her delicate features fill with anxiety as she looks up at him. “I’d hurry if I were you, I think it’s urgent.”

Harry presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, partially dislodging his glasses. “I was just about to take a break,” he protests. Complains. OK, whines.

“I know. I’m sorry.” Eloise smiles sympathetically and wraps her arms around the chart she’s holding. She looks pretty alert, but then again, she’s not coming up to hour twenty-nine, is she?

“Not your fault, El. Thanks for the message.”

Harry slopes outside, muttering to himself all the way. The cold night air hits him like a slap in the face, and it’s wonderful. It’s pitch black and clear; the stars are out and Harry’s breath is crisp, white and visible in front of him. It’s blissfully silent, as he supposes it should be; anyone with any sense is inside celebrating and sprawling out after eating too much. Fuck, he’s hungry.

For a moment, he forgets all about the urgent message until someone speaks behind him.

“You look terrible,” Draco says, and Harry spins around so fast that he almost stumbles.

Draco. Fuck. Suddenly, he realises that he never actually sent that owl letting Draco know what was going on—he’d wanted to leave it until the last moment, just in case he got out, and then that Hippogriff-attack patient had come in, and he’d... but Draco’s smiling. And Harry’s confused.

“I meant to let you know... Tremellen made me stay, and I...” Harry stops talking because Draco’s shaking his head and stepping closer, and oh, god, he smells like heaven and Harry needs to touch him right away.

“Doesn’t matter, I know. I know.” He swipes Harry’s sweaty hair out of his eyes and studies him critically while Harry slips heavy arms around his waist. “You really do look fucking awful.”

Harry laughs wearily and returns the appraising glance. Warmth pools in his stomach as he looks Draco up and down. He’s wearing a long, black wool overcoat with the collar turned up against the wind and a soft, grey scarf against his skin. The coat fits to his slender frame like it’s been made for him—which it probably has—and feels butter-soft under Harry’s fingers. Harry watches the hair lift from his forehead in the breeze, mesmerized.

“I know I do. You look like a wet dream.”

Draco smiles slowly, eyes bright. “Thanks.”

He tugs Harry over to a freezing cold, rusty, wrought-iron bench partially hidden by bushes and produces a silver flask with a theatrical flourish. As Harry stares, still not quite sure what’s happening but going with it, Draco pours hot, fragrant coffee into a mug and hands it over.

Harry inhales the steam and groans. Proper coffee. “Oh, nice.”

“Hermione... er,” Draco hesitates, and then tries again. “I mean to say, Granger told me that you like that one best. I hope it is that one, because the Muggle in the shop was a real pain in the arse about it.”

The image of Draco arguing with the snippy salesgirl in his favourite coffee place just adds to the creeping feeling of warmth that Harry suspects has nothing to do with the coffee he’s drinking.

“You came out here to bring me coffee?”

Draco flashes an electric smile and Harry’s heart stutters. He shifts closer on the bench; no one’s out here, and even if they were, he wouldn’t care.

“It’s not just coffee. I put some Vitalitas in it.” Draco gives him an odd sidelong look. “Thought you might be tired.”

Touched, Harry links their fingers briefly as he drinks from the cup and feels the potion working straight away; he doesn’t quite feel energetic, but he does feel more alert as the combination of herbs, caffeine and warm skin soothes away the ragged edges of his exhaustion.

“Did you make it?” he wonders suddenly. “The potion, I mean.”

Draco’s nod is sheepish and Harry squeezes his cold hand tighter. “I didn’t make this, though. Flimby did.”

He reaches into his pocket and places something squishy on Harry’s lap. Setting his cup down, he puzzles over the over-zealous grease-paper wrapping until he’s holding a huge, messy sandwich and he laughs, understanding, at the image of Draco trying not to get mayonnaise on his coat.

Harry’s stomach rumbles in anticipation and it’s all he can do not to shove the whole thing into his mouth in one go; he can’t remember what or when he last ate.

“You brought me a disgusting sandwich,” he sighs, gazing adoringly between warm grey eyes and warm chicken and bacon.

“Mm,” says Draco, resting a hand on Harry’s thigh as he starts to eat. “I... ah...” He pauses, and Harry meets his eyes, mouth full of bread. “Don’t get used to it,” he finishes eventually.

Harry rolls his eyes, unable to do much else.

“I thought I’d done something to offend you at first, you know,” Draco continues, looking away. “When you weren’t at home, I mean. But then you weren’t at the Weasel house either, and so—”

Harry swallows hurriedly and holds up a hand. “What?!”

Draco sighs. “Right. You weren’t at the Weasley house, so—”

“No, I mean...you went to the Burrow looking for me?” Harry interrupts again, impressed and shocked.

“Yes. I fire-called them first, though. Mother Weasel told me you were still here, and then...” Draco frowns and turns appealing grey eyes to Harry in the darkness. “...she made me a cup of tea. It was surreal.”

“Fuck, Draco, that’s... I’m sorry. And thank you.”

Draco shrugs lightly as if it’s of no consequence, but Harry knows better. It’s nothing short of miraculous.

“What did she say to you?” he mumbles through a mouthful, too hungry to mind his manners.

“Not a lot. All of the other Weasels were in the sitting room, and we just sat at the kitchen table and looked at each other very carefully until Ginevra came in and made me tell her mother all about what we’re doing with the Manor.”

“It’s a start,” Harry offers, secretly quite amused. He doesn’t suppose Draco knows how rare Molly’s silence actually is, and how unnerved she must have been, sitting at that table with him.

“Mm. I get the impression she thinks I’m going to try and corrupt you.” Draco smiles faintly.

Harry finishes his sandwich and licks his fingers, unable to look away from Draco, especially when his eyes flare with interest. Oh, god, not now, he tells himself firmly.

Shivering, partly from the biting cold, he shifts gratefully into the warm arms that come up to wrap around him and leans in, sliding a hand through Draco’s windblown hair and fitting their mouths together for what feels like the first time in forever. As their tongues touch, the jolt of electricity at the base of his spine spreads out into a safe, comfortable blanket over his skin and he sighs softly, dropping his forehead to a wool-clad shoulder and breathing in deeply.

And there’s no question, because the world falls away; the interminable shift from hell is forgotten; Tremellen doesn’t exist, and he’s not tired, not at all... he loves. So much. And it’s all for this man who’s managed to create a well of perfect calm amid the chaos with a cup of coffee, a sandwich and a kiss.

“You alright?” Draco whispers, cold fingers brushing his ear.

“Yeah. So much better.”

“Merry Christmas,” Draco adds as an afterthought. “For a few more hours, at least.”

Harry opens his eyes and gazes at the sparkling lights the porters have wrapped around the front railings of the hospital. He smiles against Draco’s coat fabric and closes them again.

“Healer Potter?” a female voice calls uncertainly from the main doors, and it’s only a matter of seconds before she looks around the bushes and spots them.

Draco goes very still, and Harry suddenly has the impression it’s his move. Slowly, he straightens up but doesn’t move back an inch. Leaves his hand resting heavy on Draco’s thigh and turns in the direction of the voice.

“Oh, there you are. Someone said they saw you come out here, and we—oh.” The unfamiliar nurse halts, eyes wide. Harry smiles at her. “Um, good evening, Mr Malfoy. Er. Well. Healer Potter, you’re needed inside. I’m sorry.”

Flushing, she turns and scurries back inside the building; Harry looks after her, feeling Draco’s unexpected soft laughter against his shoulder.

“I have to go.”

“I gathered.”

Reluctantly, he disentangles himself and stands up, pulling Draco with him.

“I’ll come over as soon as Tremellen lets me go. Fuck sleep.”

“In that order, hopefully,” Draco replies, flashing an optimistic smile.

Harry kisses him for as long as he thinks he can get away with, and then for a bit longer after that.

**~*~**

Draco’s visit seems to fortify him, and he actually manages to smile genuinely at the next stream of patients. And at Healer Aquiline, who manages to look both confused and entertained as she smiles back.

Finally, just before midnight, the pace seems to slacken and the collective sigh of relief from the staff of St Mungo’s is almost palpable. Spotting Eloise standing in the nearest ward door, Harry joins her and slings an arm around her shoulders, feeling weary but good-humoured.

“Merry Christmas, El,” he sighs, and she looks up at him.

She smiles, all dark circles and bedraggled tinsel, and leans into him for a moment. “Merry Christmas. Just,” she adds, after casting a quick Tempus.

When she turns away, he follows her gaze. For a peaceful moment—relentless carols notwithstanding—they both watch Romilda sleeping in the far bed with a protective arm around Clive, who’s curled into her side, completely ignoring the small bed that Eloise has Transfigured for him.

“That was quite romantic, really,” Eloise remarks suddenly.

“Hmm?”

“Draco. I didn’t know he had it in him.”

Catching her slow grin, Harry releases her and shoves his hands into his robe pockets. The bright green robe still smells faintly of sick, and Draco hadn’t said a word about it, even though the stench must have been intense to his heightened senses.

“He’s full of surprises.”

“I’m sure...” Eloise doesn’t finish her sentence as Tremellen stalks around the corner looking exhausted and several shades of cantankerous.

“You’ve worked hard, Healer Potter.” His mouth twists around the words and Harry’s shock is only tempered by the muttered addition of, “Apparently. Go home.”

Eloise shares a secret glance with him before he grins at her, light with relief, and Disapparates on the spot. He does not need to be told twice.

His living room is dark and still, just as he left it, and he releases a loud, drawn-out groan into the air as he sheds his robes and kicks off his shoes; he’s aching, sweaty, tired and covered in glitter, but he’s home. He’ll just shower and change, and then head straight over to the Manor like he promised; he has the whole of tomorrow to make it up to Hermione and the Weasleys.

Leaving the dirty robes in a pool at his feet, he starts across the room and stops short. And there’s no stopping the smile splitting his face because Draco Malfoy is asleep on his sofa. Stretched out full length on his right side, one arm curled underneath his head, long legs slightly bent and feet tucked under a pile of cushions. Harry notes the boots at the foot of the nearest chair, and the long black coat slung carefully over the back of it and wonders just how long he’s been here.

It’s rare that he gets to watch Draco sleep; Harry usually falls asleep first and wakes up last. Taking care to be quiet, he drops down to kneel beside the sofa and tentatively runs his fingertips over the nearest strong, elegant hand, completely relaxed in sleep. The pale hair that fans out over Harry’s olive-green cushions feels like silk and the warm breath from slightly parted lips grazes his palm as he traces the sharp jawline.

So beautiful. Mine. Love you.

Contentment washes over Harry in a smooth wave. He sort of doesn’t want to wake Draco, but doubts he’s waiting here just because he likes Harry’s sofa. He hopes not, anyway.

“Hey,” he whispers, stroking Draco’s fingers again and rubbing his palm up over the inside of his forearm. “Hey.”

Slowly, he stirs and reaches out blindly for Harry, drawing him closer. Sleepy grey eyes open and blink, once, twice.

“What time d’you call this?”

“Not Christmas any more?” Harry offers, briefly diverting his eyes to his grandfather clock just in time to see the long hand slip to three minutes past midnight.

Draco smiles and closes his eyes again. “We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

“Why are you always covered in fucking glitter?” Draco asks, eyeing Harry’s steaming, slightly sparkly bathwater from the bathroom doorway.

“Fashion statement,” Harry says, sinking deeper until the deliciously hot water envelops him right up to his chin and stretching with blissful languor until his toes press against the porcelain at the other end. “Exploding baubles,” he adds, on seeing Draco’s eyebrow lift.

Draco snorts. “That makes more sense. You wouldn’t know a fashion statement if it jumped up and bit you in the arse.”

“Charming.”

Harry gazes at Draco, now leaning against the doorframe and staring right back with an odd little smile on his face. He’d planned on a quick shower and then something much more fun, before sleep and lots of it, but he’s somehow been persuaded into his rarely-used tub and now lies here, slumped, utterly relaxed, in hot, soft water that smells vaguely of mint oil or menthol or something—Draco knows, but Harry’s not in the mood for a lecture, so he doesn’t ask.

Fighting the suspicion that he’ll soon be too relaxed to ever stand up again, Harry just inhales the steam and wonders if he can’t persuade Draco into the water with him.

“Come on then, get in here.”

Draco says nothing but steps into the room, closing the door behind him with a click and plunging the bathroom into a comforting near-darkness. Triumphant, Harry removes his glasses, screws his eyes shut and ducks his head under the water; he emerges dripping, slightly oil-shiny and inhaling sharply from the tingle of menthol against his skin. Swiping saturated hair from his face, he frowns.

Draco is still fully clothed and has taken up position on the tiled floor, sitting and leaning against the bath, knees propped up and one arm resting along the bath rim.

“That’s not quite what I meant,” Harry sighs.

“I know.” Tipping his head back to regard Harry, Draco quirks a smile at his water-logged appearance. “You have no idea what you look like, do you?”

Harry pastes on his best smirk. “Enlighten me.”

Grey eyes sparkle with mischief and Draco leans back so far that the longest strands of his hair miss the oily, sparkly water by mere millimetres. “Fuck, that sounded just like... well, me.”

Harry laughs. “I should worry. Seriously, why aren’t you in this water with me? Does your sense of adventure not extend to the bathroom?”

Looking utterly affronted, Draco shifts position so that he’s resting both arms on the curved edge of the bath, and his chin on top. “I think you’ll find I’m extremely adventurous in the shower.”

“Oh, yeah... that’s true,” Harry murmurs. A slow smile spreads across his face, as despite his fatigue, something low down inside him twinges pleasurably at the memories invoked by Draco’s words. “Very adventurous. Still, you’re the one who insisted I had a bath, and this one’s definitely big enough for two.”

Draco shakes his head, hair falling into his eyes. “Some other time. Promise.”

Folding his arms under the water, Harry decides to give it one last shot. He sets his face into a mock-stern expression and instructs, “Into this water this instant. I won’t ask you again.”

The second the words are out of his mouth, Draco’s playful expression disappears and he physically recoils; he sits back on his heels, hands on his thighs, no part of him touching the bath now. “Don’t,” he says, eyes shuttered.

Confused, and with panic rapidly setting in, Harry lifts a dripping hand out of the water and reaches out to him. His heart is pounding and he’s not quite sure what he’s done but he needs to fix it right away.

“Draco, hey...”

“Don’t,” he insists, not quite meeting Harry’s eyes; the grey irises are cool and seem to look through rather than at him.

Harry drops his hand to wrap around the cool edge of the bath and nods. “Look, I didn’t mean to... whatever I did. What’s wrong?”

“There’s nothing wrong,” Draco says defensively, getting to his feet and crossing his arms over his chest. “Nothing.” This time he does make eye contact and the careful blankness Harry finds there chills him.

Sitting up straight now, clutching slippery porcelain, Harry frowns. “There is something wrong, you—”

“You do what you have to do, and I will be downstairs,” Draco interrupts, heading for the door.

Harry sits motionless for a moment, panic gripping at his insides. The speed at which the barriers have flown up is frightening, and the fact that he’s become so used to a warm, more trusting Draco just makes the reappearance of the old, cold version even more jarring.

As Draco yanks the bathroom door open, he knows that not only is it something he said, but that if he lets Draco walk out of the room, he’ll go downstairs and brood and then bury it so deep that Harry will never get near it again, never know quite what he did.

“Wait!”

Nothing. Halfway into the hallway now. Just barely resisting the temptation to throw a wandless stunner in desperation, Harry instead forces his rubbery, aching muscles into action and scrambles to his feet. The cold air in the bathroom is a harsh shock against his wet, heated skin as he sways slightly, hot water lapping around his knees.

“Draco,” he calls, not caring how ridiculous he looks. “Draco, please.”

He sounds desperate to his own ears, but something in his voice stops Draco and he turns slowly, takes several deep breaths and returns slowly to the open doorway.

He’s not that great at this talking thing, he knows he’s not, and Draco is even worse, but Harry does know that allowing a situation to turn from calm affection to total freeze-out without even an attempt at intervention is a very bad idea indeed.

For long seconds, they regard each other in silence. The splash of water droplets from Harry’s skin into the water below seems unnaturally loud. Draco crosses his arms again, eyes still hard.

“You’ll get cold like that.”

Instinctively, Harry glances down at himself and for perhaps the first time, feels a little bit self-conscious about his nakedness. Perhaps it’s something about having everything on display to someone whose cool expression makes him seem like a stranger.

“Yeah, well.” Harry folds his arms too, refusing to shiver, even though he is getting cold. “I’ll get back in if you come in here and explain to me what just happened.”

Draco opens his mouth, seems to reconsider, and closes it again. Harry holds on to the eye contact and pointedly lowers himself back into the hot water.

Come on, he attempts to communicate silently through his eyes and open posture. Come on, Draco. Don’t do this.

Finally, a ragged sigh is released into the steam-filled air and Draco nods just once. He closes the bathroom door behind him and perches on the edge of the bath near Harry’s feet. He seems too far away, but Harry knows better now than to push.

Draco looks at the wall for what seems like a long time. When he turns to Harry, the grey eyes are unsure and defiant, but the hard blankness is gone and Harry is so relieved that he almost smiles. Something frightening unclenches inside him and he waits.

“I’ve no desire to make this sound any more dramatic than it is,” Draco says quietly, “but no one’s said that to me for a very long time.”

“Said what?” Harry almost whispers, and then sinks down to his nostrils in the water.

“‘I won’t ask you again.’” Draco rubs a hand over his face. “For the last few years of his life, it was rather like his final warning. ‘I won’t ask you again, Draco,’” he adds in a cool, refined voice that’s pitched slightly lower than usual and so uncannily like Lucius that Harry suppresses a shiver.

Fuck. That expression he’d seen in the split second before his Draco had disappeared was revulsion. Revulsion and fear. Harry chokes on the realisation that he caused that with his careless words, and hates himself for hurting the person who has made the last few hours bearable, however unintentionally.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m sorry, I’d never...”

“I know.”

Draco trails a hand in the water, watching the soft ripples his fingers create. Harry watches him in silence, not knowing what to say next. Watches his graceful movements and the wet sparkles sticking to pale skin that’s luminous in the darkness. Watches the pensive expression on his patrician features, the fall of hair across his forehead and the dark sleeves carefully rolled up to his elbows.

The swell of warm feeling around him is tempered only by the intensified desire to dig up Lucius Malfoy and give him the kicking of his life. Afterlife. Whatever.

“Do you... er, want to talk about it?” he offers, unsure but determined. Finding himself in the curious position of both needing to know what happened and hoping to never know what happened.

“Not especially.” Draco looks up. “Does it help to talk about what happened to you?”

Surprised by the question, Harry pauses. “The Dursleys?” Draco nods. “No, not really. But I can, if you want.”

Draco’s mouth lifts in a tiny half-smile that turns Harry’s stomach over. He slides back onto the floor, one hand still swiping slowly through the water, closer to Harry now. “Did they hurt you?”

“Physically? Once or twice. My cousin used to beat me up all the time until I got too fast for him. My aunt and uncle didn’t seem that interested in physically damaging me, really. It was more about making sure I knew what a freak I was, that I wasn’t as good as them, that I was useless, that they only put up with me because my parents had thoughtlessly gone and got themselves killed,” Harry says, only allowing bitterness to enter his weary tone when he speaks of his parents. “They treated me like a servant, or worse. I think, actually, you got it right when you said they were bastards.”

When he looks down at Draco, his pale eyes are intense and his nostrils flare with anger. The submerged hand seeks out skin under the water, eventually settling and flattening against Harry’s hip.

“It’s fortunate that I don’t know where they are,” he says simply, and that’s somehow a hundred times better than any hand-wringing and ‘Oh, what a shame for you’-s he’s ever had.

“Thanks,” he says eventually, and bites his lip, sticking his big toe into the hot tap. “I don’t think... I don’t think it helps to rake it over and over. But I think maybe we should... know this stuff about each other. You can’t be considerate of what you don’t know—case in point,” Harry adds, looking at Draco again and hoping for the best.

“How are you so fucking rational? By rights you should be just as screwed up as me.”

“You’re not screwed up, Draco, and I’m not even going into that. You’ll just roll your eyes and make some derisive comment, so let’s not.” Harry closes his eyes and stretches in the hot water.

“Tell me, I won’t.”

Harry opens one eye. Draco’s expression is verging on hopeful, and he gives in. “Ron and Hermione. I’m no relationship expert but it’s amazing what you learn from watching your two closest friends having one for the last five years. ’Mione always says that they make all the mistakes so I don’t have to.”

Draco holds back the eye-roll but he does arch an eyebrow. “If only it was that simple.”

“Well, yeah. But it’s a nice idea in theory.”

Harry rests his head against the back of the bath and enjoys the fragrant steam and pressure of Draco’s palm against his hip, knowing he’ll talk if he wants to.

“He never liked to be disobeyed,” Draco offers eventually. “He didn’t get violent about it until I was about fifteen, though.”

“Did he...?”

“Hit me? No. He was always very careful never to lay a finger on me. But as you know, there are rakes of hexes and curses that cause enough pain to get a point across without ever leaving a mark.”

Harry winces, and the hand shifts slightly against his wet skin. “Yeah,” he whispers. “There are.”

“I learned to switch off. Shut down. That’s when he gave me the Chromia—when he realised that I was regretting my decision, and also that I was starting to be able to hold out against him, to think for myself. And it worked. I no longer gave a crap what happened to me.”

Horrified and yet unsurprised, Harry forces himself to look up; he half expects Draco to be determinedly staring at the floor, but the grey eyes are fixed firmly upon him already and are clear and calm. Only his slightly uneven breathing gives him away, and Harry does not call him on it.

“He wasn’t evil, you know,” Draco adds. “At least, not at first.”

Harry nods slowly, unsure but not wanting to push the point. The cautious trust is back in Draco’s eyes and he aches inside to see it. He wants to hold onto it. “I believe you. And I want to tell you this...” Harry pauses, lifting a wet hand onto the edge of the bath and just brushing fingertips against Draco’s nearest arm, the one that’s elbow-deep in the hot water.

“What?”

Harry watches the wet finger marks spread across the soft cashmere. “I will never force you to do something you don’t want to. And I will never hurt you on purpose.”

“On purpose?”

“Yeah, well. I wouldn’t believe someone who tried to convince me they’d never ever hurt me, full stop. That’s bullshit. Life happens. People aren’t perfect.”

Draco stares at him for what seems like a long time, deep in thought. The hand on Harry’s hip slides up to rest over his stomach and the other comes up to rake through steam-kinked blond hair.

Finally, Draco’s submerged hand emerges with a splash and slides warm-wet-slick over Harry’s cheek and into his damp, straggly hair. Awkwardly but determinedly, Draco leans over and whispers, “Deal,” against Harry’s lips. Harry reaches out and beats him to the kiss, taking his mouth fiercely and pouring all of his relief, anger and gratitude into the subsequent warm mesh of lips and tongues and wet hands threading into Draco’s dry hair.

“Bed?” Harry mumbles; he can do monosyllables, too.

“Yes.”

“Good.”

**~*~**

The bedroom is completely and blissfully dark, and as soon as Harry crawls between the soft, clean-smelling sheets, two things happen.

He remembers exactly how fucking exhausted he is, and that it’s coming up to forty hours since he last slept.

He remembers exactly how quickly and violently his body responds to skin-to-skin contact with Draco, and that point is particularly hammered home as Draco sheds his clothing and stretches out behind Harry under the sheets, pressing his chest against Harry’s back and his nose into the damp waves at the back of Harry’s neck.

“Tired?” Draco whispers, curling a hand over his hip, and he really is, but the simple touch and hot breath and the scent conspire to send a spike of desire down his spine and through his groin that he can do nothing about but whimper softly as fingertips accidentally—or not so accidentally—brush the sensitive spot below his hipbone.

“No,” he lies, not wanting the touching to stop, but struggling to gather the energy to roll over and pin Draco to the bed like he wants to. Like his racing heart and rapidly-hardening cock want him to.

“Fucking liar,” comes the amused whisper against the back of his neck. “Why don’t you tell me about your day, and I’ll make you forget about it.”

Closing his eyes, Harry’s answering smile is lazy and lost to the darkness of the room. “OK. Well, several years ago, I started my shift fifteen minutes late because someone was distracting me in a very similar way to this,” he begins, arching his neck into the open-mouthed kisses being placed there.

“Scandalous,” Draco mumbles. “Continue.”

“Please,” Harry chastises.

A soft snort, and then: “Please continue.”

“I spent nearly four hours in the clinic, and my first patient was a man with a fish stuck in his—mm.” Harry groans as sure fingers start to work out the stubbornest knots in his shoulders. “In his mouth. It was still alive, and I had to...”

He realises quickly that when he stops talking, so does the rubbing and kissing, so it’s with some concentration that he relates the events of his marathon shift, barely noticing anything other than the warm, liberating feeling of being totally taken care of, and allowing it. The caresses are slow and sweeping, simultaneously soothing and erotic, and it isn’t long at all before he’s panting slightly, hard and leaking against the sheets.

“And then what did she say?” Draco whispers, sliding a warm thigh in between Harry’s from behind.

“She... ah... she said the plot was overrated. She said... mmm... that it was good that I told him off,” Harry manages, adrift in the dark in a slow, heavy ache, body tight with weary longing.

“It is,” Draco agrees, humming with approval when Harry gives in and wraps a hand around his own cock with a soft groan.

“I went... um... to Trauma, and Aquiline and I reversed a... ah... something...” Harry continues valiantly, and he’s barely aware of being carefully, slowly worked open on Draco’s slicked fingers until he starts rubbing light, maddening circles over that sensitive spot and the jolt of pleasure makes Harry’s eyes fly open. “Fuck, Draco... yes.”

Gasping, clenching the sheets in one hand and gripping his twitching cock tightly in the other, Harry pushes back against Draco’s hand.

“Mmhm, and then what?” Draco twists his fingers slowly, dragging a low whimper from Harry, but the breathlessness of his voice doesn’t escape Harry, and is immensely gratifying, as is the hot drag of hard flesh against the small of his back.

“And then I... oh, fuck.” Harry pauses, trying to ignore the delicious slide inside him even though he can’t quite figure out why. “And then I... erm.” Draco kisses the nape of his neck, licking the damp hair out of the way, and Harry loses it. “And then, I ended up in bed with a horrible fucking tease who’s going to be in worlds of trouble when I’ve had some sleep, unless he bloody well fucks me right now,” he hisses, corralling the last of his mental energy.

“You only had to ask,” Draco says mildly, matching Harry’s sharp intake of breath as he pulls his fingers free of Harry’s body. “Or demand, whatever.”

“You never ask nicely,” Harry points out, drawing his topmost knee closer to his chest, anticipation making his blood race in his veins. Needing.

“I know.” Harry can hear the smile in his voice, feel the warm, heavy pressure at his entrance and Draco’s hot breath on the back of his neck. He almost sobs when the pressure shifts into a claiming, satisfying feeling of being filled and surrounded and when Draco is once more pressed against his back, deep inside him and shaking slightly, Harry exhales hard and closes his eyes again.

He still can’t make his mind up whether he likes it better this way or the other way, and he supposes it doesn’t matter, but there are some times when it just needs to be like this; he doesn’t know why, only that it does, and Draco never protests.

“It just is,” Harry murmurs to himself, reaching behind him to pull Draco’s arm around his chest. “Come on,” he whispers gently, pushing back until he gets the message.

He does, quickly, and starts up a slow, unrelenting cadence that Harry hastens to follow, fisting his hard cock with each slide in, grabbing at the damp sheets with each slide out, breath catching over and over, out of time, as Draco exhales shakily against his neck and flattens their free hands together against Harry’s chest.

“There? Where... tell me,” he demands, shifting the angle of his stroke inside Harry, searching. “Tell me.”

Until a hard, determined slam rips that uninhibited sound from Harry, and a desperate, “There, fucking there, don’t move from there.”

“Won’t.” And he doesn’t, just holds on and pushes, slides, fills, again and again, skin warm against Harry’s where they touch. Lips soft and damp on his shoulder as they form the words, “You feel too good... close.”

Lost in sensation, Harry hardly registers the words, but he feels and hears the moment Draco loses control, shuddering against and inside him as he comes with a low, rough cry in Harry’s ear. Knowing he did that, without doing anything at all, is enough to drag Harry’s release from him with just a couple of rough pulls at his cock. Pressing back into the warm body behind him, he tenses as the heat rips through him and spills over his fingers.

He’s not really surprised that the soporific effect of orgasm is even stronger than usual, after the day he’s had; he feels immediately heavy all over and struggles to even raise his head to squint at Draco in the dark, fumble a Cleaning Spell and attempt a smile.

Now I’m tired.”

“Well then, I did it right,” Draco says, closes his eyes and drags Harry back against his chest.

“Always a show-off, you bloody...” Harry gives up and lets his eyes close.

**~*~**

When Harry stirs into consciousness, it’s fully light outside and he senses it’s some time mid-morning, though it hardly matters. He doesn’t have to work today, and the thought makes him smile even before he rolls over and sees Draco watching him, propped up on his side on one elbow.

“Hey,” he murmurs, shifting closer and slipping a hand inside the white shirt that Draco favours for early morning wandering-about-the-house time.

“Hey yourself,” Draco says, sounding amused. “Do you know that your kitchen cupboard doesn’t think much to the tinsel you’ve stuck to it?”

Harry pauses in his exploration of Draco’s warm chest and snorts. The drama of the previous day and night suddenly seems very far away, and he luxuriates in the distance. “Yeah. That’s why I did it.”

“Impressively sadistic.” Draco pulls away and leans down over the side of the bed, retrieving a small, carefully-wrapped package, which he sets on the covers in front of Harry and then curls back on his side, eyes expectant.

“Oh!” Harry grins at the spike of excitement as he realises he’s forgotten all about exchanging gifts. “Merry Not-Christmas,” he offers, and Draco returns his smile. For about half a second, until Harry starts pulling at the paper, and the grey eyes turn anxious.

“The thing is,” he says quickly, “I didn’t really know what to get, because you have everything already, and I’m not exactly accustomed to... my mother and I haven’t properly exchanged gifts for years, and Ginevra’s easy, she drags me to a robe shop, points at something garish, and that’s it sorted.”

Harry looks up, amused to see long, pale fingers picking at the sheets; it’s not often he’ll admit to being unsure about something. Distractedly, he wonders if, in that case, he was the only person who gave Narcissa Malfoy a Christmas gift. Interesting.

Flashing Draco a quick smile, he finishes unwrapping what appears to be a small, intricately carved mahogany box with a hinged lid. Intrigued, he opens it and admires the gently pulsing silvery-blue light within. Alright, so he has no idea what it is, but it’s very beautiful, and knowing Draco, probably very expensive and/or difficult to obtain.

The light ripples back and forth, and when Harry sticks his finger into it, seems to wrap around the digit for a moment before pulsing with even more intensity. He’s about to give in and ask what it is before Draco speaks again.

“You can sort of record your thoughts in it... it works a little bit like a Pensieve but it’s for storing information rather than memories—you store them in there and when you need them, it’ll speak them back to you. I know Muggles have a similar thing but this is better because once it’s attuned to your magical signature—like it’s trying to do now,” Draco explains, indicating the silvery light that’s once more licking at the tip of Harry’s finger, “then you only need to touch it and it’ll know which thoughts you want back. I thought it might help you at work, when you’ve got so much to remember with your new rotations and things, not that I’m suggesting... have you already got one?” Draco finishes all in one breath.

Harry curls his fingers around the elaborate carving and shakes his head slowly, filled with warmth both at the thoughtful present and Draco’s badly-concealed apprehension.

“No. No, I haven’t got one... wow.”

“I really didn’t... someone told me you’d want something practical, and someone else told me you’d want something ornamental.” Draco folds his arms and almost pouts. “The lot of them were completely un-fucking-helpful.”

Delighted, Harry looks up and takes in his expression, wondering and at the same time suspecting he knows who Draco has solicited opinions from. He carefully closes and sets down the box and yanks Draco’s arms away from his chest, kissing him thoroughly until he relaxes and kisses back, melting back against Harry and practically purring.

“Thank you. That’s brilliant,” he enthuses, pulling away again. “Practical and ornamental,” he adds with a wry smirk.

“I know!” Draco’s expression turns slightly smug. He flops back onto the pillows and closes his eyes, smiling and stretching, unbuttoned shirt gaping open, exposing the trail of soft blond hair and grazing smooth, pink nipples. He looks relieved and happy and so fucking pleased with himself.

Harry admires him unashamedly, temporarily flailing in a wash of love so painfully intense that it steals his breath away. He opens his mouth, carried along with it, and then those eyes open and he loses his nerve.

Administering a mental slap to himself—‘they’re just words, for fuck’s sake’—and deciding that tea-making is probably the best plan right now, Harry is just about to get out of bed when he notices a second package; the wrapping paper is almost the exact same shade as his sheets and he hadn’t seen it before.

“What’s this one?”

Draco looks. “Oh. Well. That one’s not from me, so I don’t know what’s in it.”

Having started into the wrapping, Harry freezes. “Not your mother?”

“Well, it’s not from the dog, is it?” Draco laughs. “Or Flimby, though both of them clearly worship you.”

“Bloody hell.”

“Come on, I want to see what it is.” Draco curls on his side once more, tangling his legs with Harry’s and attempting to warm up his cold feet.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Harry complains, knowing it won’t make any difference.

Still, he removes the wrapping and raises his eyebrows as a light, soft black cloak spills over his hands and onto the bed. A small, hand-written tag snags his attention.

‘Veneratio, Mr Potter. In-built Impervius Charm may stop you from dripping all over my floor.

--NRM’


Blindsided, Harry stares at the note until Draco, curiosity piqued, takes it out of his hands and reads it aloud. His sharp laughter pulls Harry’s surprised grin from him and after a moment, he joins in.

“I thought she didn’t do Christmas.”

“She doesn’t. But I imagine she figured out you were going to get her something, and it’s extremely impolite not to reciprocate,” Draco surmises.

Harry nods silently and strokes the soft fabric, carefully folding it up and placing it on his bedside table along with the little carved box. It’s silly, he knows, but he still gets a bit overwhelmed when people give him things and he’s always worried that his own return gifts aren’t quite as good.

“You know,” Draco remarks, “I thought about having Flimby cook Evil Peacock for you, but in the end I hadn’t the heart. He’s got spirit. Repeatedly biting the Boy Who Lived is a pretty gutsy move, don’t you think?”

Harry laughs, then frowns. “Are you even allowed to eat peacock? Isn’t it like swan?”

“What about swan?” Draco lifts an eyebrow.

“You know, they all belong to the Queen... the Muggle Queen. So it’s not allowed.”

Draco blinks innocently. “Haven’t you ever had swan? I had it all the time as a child. Swan sandwiches. Swan on toast. Swan-au-vin.”

Harry’s initial horror fades when Draco’s mouth twitches as he struggles to keep his face straight. He shoves Draco in the shoulder and heads into the en-suite bathroom; Draco’s voice follows him as he splashes his face with water and looks at his tongue in the mirror. “...swan pie, swan en croute, swan pate, swan salad...”

He re-enters the bedroom and stares at Draco witheringly. Pulling on the nearest pair of black boxers, which he suspects are Draco’s from the softness of the fabric, he descends the stairs to the kitchen.

“Do you want some tea?” he yells up the stairs.

“Swan tea!” yells Draco, after a moment, and gets up, from the sounds of it.

“I’ll swan tea you in a minute,” Harry mutters darkly.

Flap. Creak. Bang.

Harry spares a glance for the protesting, tinsel-festooned cupboard. “Do you really think making sense is my priority right now?”

“Mm, when is it ever?” Draco muses, drifting into the kitchen half-wearing his jeans and Harry’s white shirt.

Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s good that you know my day is never complete until you’ve insulted my intelligence,” he says, but doesn’t mind the warmth that is suddenly draped all over his back.

“It certainly is. Now, I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but aren’t we only half done here?”

Harry pours the tea and turns around, allowing Draco to effectively pin him against the counter with a hand either side of Harry’s hips.

“Yeah. So... don’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t buy you a present,” he begins.

Draco’s eyebrows lower ever so slightly and he presses his lips together into a thin line. His eyes dart, as though he’s trying not to look confused. “Oh. Well... right. How should I take that, exactly?”

Harry sips his tea and savours the perfumey aroma, as well as the thinly-veiled indignation on Draco’s face. “It’s just that I thought and thought and thought of all these beautiful, useless things I could get...”

“I rather like beautiful, useless things, for what it’s worth,” Draco puts in slightly petulantly.

“Yeah... but... look, it’s better if I just show you, after breakfast. I need to thank your mother, anyway.”

Draco scowls. “I don’t understand.”

Harry grins. “Excellent. Makes a change, doesn’t it?”

**~*~**

“I hate Flooing,” Harry complains, now showered and dressed and ready to step—reluctantly—into the fireplace.

“I hate walking,” Draco counters.

“Why do you get to win?”

Draco takes a pinch of powder and smirks. “Because you didn’t buy me a Christmas present?”

Harry pulls a face and calls out his destination, stepping into the green flames with Draco close behind.

Once in the East Wing, Draco’s expression of confusion only deepens, much to Harry’s not-so-secret delight.

“I think you’ve gone mad,” Draco opines, following Harry across the light-flooded lounge, which is now half-furnished and looks more like a living space than a gallery or empty ballroom.

“Possibly.” Harry grins at him over his shoulder, pushing down his uncertainty with some effort. Stopping in the corridor, he hesitates for a moment, watching Draco flick narrowed eyes around the bare walls, searching for a clue. “Here we are, then,” he adds, drawing his wand and dispelling the strong Disillusionment Charm he and Fyz had cast together to conceal the changes made to the alcove.

As Draco watches the bare alcove shimmer and disappear behind a large wooden door, Harry watches him, revelling in his soft sound of surprise and involuntary step backwards.

“Like I said, I couldn’t think of anything to buy you, so... er, I made you this instead,” Harry explains, inviting Draco to open the door.

With one last enquiring flicker of an eyebrow, Draco grabs the handle and pulls the door open and... says nothing. Motionless, his fingers slip from the door handle and down to his side. Harry holds his breath and comes to stand behind him, resting gentle hands on slender hips and gazing past the blond head at the result of his and Fyzal’s hard work.

Objectively speaking, he has to admit that it looks pretty good: floor-to-ceiling beech shelves, slightly muted lighting that glances off the shiny marble floor, and stocked with every item of stationery Harry was able to lay his hands on, both Muggle and Wizarding. There are inks in every colour of the rainbow and a few more besides, parchments in all available grades, hues and sizes, myriad quills, pens and paperclips.

The small ladder that reaches the topmost shelves was a last-minute addition, and it’s this that catches Draco’s attention enough for him to step out of Harry’s loose embrace and reach out a hand to touch.

Slightly fretful that Draco has still yet to say a single word, Harry grips the nearest shelf hard and chews on his lip, shrugging to no one in particular. “I mean, I know you’ll probably want to rearrange the whole thing, I wasn’t really sure where all the things were supposed to go. You probably have some weird anally-retentive system, don’t you? Draco?”

“Mm?”

“Are you listening?”

“Anally-retentive system,” Draco murmurs, finally turning around, and the pure astonishment in his eyes delivers a fierce kick to Harry’s gut. “You made this? When?”

“At the weekend. While you were torturing Ginny. Do you like it?”

Draco frowns, looking lost, tongue-tip darting out to swipe along his bottom lip. His hand lifts automatically to rake through his hair. “I.... Harry. You made me a cupboard. I... how?”

Oddly, his disorientation relaxes Harry, and he leans back against the shelves, breathing in the sweet smells of wood, parchment and ink, and basking in it. “Without magic, as it happens. For the most part.”

“Why?”

“Fyz helped me, and he says that putting up shelves with magic is sacrilege. Did you know his father was a Master Carpenter?”

“What...? No. I didn’t know that.” Draco turns in a circle, sweeping his eyes around the interior of the cupboard once more. “I meant why did you... fucking hell. You made me a cupboard.”

“I did.” Harry smiles.

Suddenly, Draco laughs, and it’s such a sound of open delight that Harry can’t help but laugh too. He turns away and begins picking things up, examining them carefully and replacing them.

“What’s this?”

Harry looks at the mysterious metal object in his face and draws back from its pointy teeth. “Erm, well, I don’t know what they all are. But I think that’s for pulling out staples. Possibly.”

Draco’s eyes gleam and he snaps the teeth together experimentally. Setting it down on the shelf, he takes a few steps up onto the ladder and exclaims, “Look at the size of these paperclips!”

I think you do like it,” Harry mutters under his breath, pretending not to be caught up in Draco’s excitement. With limited success. He’s always gotten a kick out of making others happy, but this is on a whole new scale.

“Tape that’s sticky on both sides,” Draco sighs, and Harry glows with pride.

He’s about to physically haul Draco down from the ladder when he jumps lightly to the floor by himself and backs Harry against the nearest wall of shelves, eyes intense.

“You made this for me,” he says slowly, mouth twisting in contemplation. “It’s wonderful. Why?”

Harry frowns, wondering what the right answer is. “Because it’s Christmas... and I wanted to make you happy?” he tries.

“Oh...” Draco exhales against his neck, hard. Slides his fingertips under the string around Harry’s wrist and rubs his thumb over Harry’s palm. There’s a slightly rough edge to his voice when he adds: “It’s fucking beautiful. I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

“That’ll do,” Harry says softly, lifting his free hand to slip under the back of Draco’s sweater, inhaling the familiar warm, citrus scent and seeking out his mouth for the first—but hopefully not the last—kiss in the stationery closet at not-Malfoy Manor Chem Dep.

“We’re really doing this, aren’t we?” Draco says after some time, slightly breathless. He glances around him, out of the door at the soon-to-be office, and back at Harry.

The exact definition of the ‘this’ seems unimportant.

“Yes.”

**~*~**

“She’ll be in here, pretending it’s summer,” says Draco, reaching for the ornate doorknob in front of him; they’re somewhere on the ground floor of the West Wing, but Harry can’t be certain where. “I think she probably—”

“Forgive Flimby, Master Draco,” the house-elf interrupts, appearing with a sharp crack, already wringing his hands. “Flimby is ever so sorry for the interrupting, but Mister Marley is wanting to speak in the fire. Mister Marley says it is being urgent.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Mr Marley doesn’t know the meaning of the word urgent,” he murmurs, and turns to Harry. “I’ll have to go and see what he wants or I’ll never hear the end of it. Shan’t be long, if you want to wait?”

Harry glances back at the closed door and then at Draco’s calm, questioning gaze. “I’ll be alright.”

Pale eyes flicker briefly, and then Draco nods. Taking a deep breath, Harry’s hand closes around the cold, silver knob when Draco’s sharp inhalation and sudden cool, tingling touch on the side of his neck freeze him to the spot.

“What’re you doing?”

After a moment, Draco lets his hand fall away and pulls gently at his bottom lip with his teeth. “Just removing something I apparently... put there.”

A flash of understanding has Harry’s eyes widening in indignation and amusement. “You mean I was about to go and talk to your mother with bite-marks on my neck?!”

“It wasn’t a bite,” Draco insists, grinning. “Just an enthusiastic suck.”

Flushing slightly, Harry grins back. “Well, I’m not going to refute that.”

The soft thud of Flimby banging his head against the corridor wall startles them both out of their heated stare. Draco rolls his eyes, nudges the house-elf away from the wall and stalks off in search of a fireplace. Harry opens the door in front of him.

Immediately, he has to squint painfully as an unexpected amount of light floods his vision. When the room comes into focus, he realises that he’s standing in the counterpart to Draco’s East Wing dining room; winter sunlight streams in through two full walls of windows that look out onto the frost-covered grounds.

The sun-room is elegantly appointed in pale colours, and, unsurprisingly, Narcissa Malfoy blends right in, lounging regally in a high-backed chair by the windows with Zeus at her feet and a book open on her lap.

“Good morning, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry says, feeling strangely adrift without the gift ritual dialogue to prompt him. For the first time, he sort of gets it; those words are an easy, well-worn way in.

Pale blue eyes lift slowly to meet his. “Mr Potter,” she begins, and it’s unclear whether she planned on saying anything else, because their attention is stolen by Zeus’ joyful yelp, wagging tails and clear delight as he scrambles to his feet and rushes to greet Harry with half a chewy duck-flavoured treat hanging out of his mouth.

“Hello, Zeus,” Harry offers, crouching to ruffle the animal’s fur and note with satisfaction that he seems to be enjoying the edible portion of his Christmas gift.

Zeus’ black button eyes stare up into his adoringly and Harry grins.

“Zeus likes you, Mr Potter.”

Harry looks up in surprise at this observation, voluntarily offered. “So it would seem.”

Narcissa sniffs. “And he’s usually such a good judge of character.”

Harry stares at her for a moment before he sees it. It’s tiny, but it’s there. Just the miniscule flicker of one white-blonde eyebrow, and Harry realises with a rush of clarity that not only does Draco get this expression from his mother, but that Narcissa Malfoy is kidding. She’s joking.

She doesn’t smile, but something new skates across her cool eyes, and Harry does. He smiles at her, tentatively but, for the first time, genuinely.

“Two out of three Malfoys like me. Perhaps you ought to bow to familial pressure and like me, too.”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he can’t quite believe his brazenness, but there it is. He’s said it now. There’s something about the warm peace of the elegant woman’s sun-drenched room, and the butt of a blunt furry head against his knee as he stands, that sets him more at ease than he’s ever been in her presence.

Narcissa purses her lips, holding eye contact for a moment, and then looks out of the window at the sparkling frost. “Perhaps,” she says, and nothing more, but it feels like a small victory.

“Thank you for the cloak, Mrs Malfoy.” Harry rests his hand on the sun-warmed back of a leather chair. “Pera gratia,” he attempts, hoping not to let his uncertainty show on his face.

Per gratia,” Narcissa corrects after a moment, not looking away from the window. Harry can’t see her expression or read her tone, and he cringes inwardly. “With gratitude. Pera gratia is closer to... well, a grateful handbag.”

Despite Harry’s embarrassment, his mouth twitches involuntarily at the image and he bites down hard on the inside of his lip. Zeus licks his hand with enthusiasm, and Harry tries not to care that he’s being covered with warm, duck-flavoured Crup saliva.

“You are welcome,” she continues, finally turning back to him. Slowly, her slender fingers uncurl from around the pages of the book in her lap and she indicates it with a flick of her eyes. “This is a very strange book, Mr Potter.”

Surprised, Harry allows the smile to blossom and takes a step closer to her chair. Unthinking, he blurts, “You’re reading it? I didn’t know if you would, but it’s brilliant—you just have to bear with it and after a while it starts to make sense. It’s my favourite book,” he adds, falling silent when he suddenly hears himself and realises he’s talking, enthusing, to Mrs Malfoy as he would to Hermione or Cecile or Draco.

Well. There’s one way to undo all of that careful faffing about with Latin and jam.

Narcissa lifts an imperious eyebrow at his unchecked prattling and he suddenly feels very small. Anxiety wraps tightly around him as he waits for a response. He knows next to nothing about Wizarding literature, but has a fair knowledge of the Muggle classics, having spent a good portion of his post-war, post-renovation directionless months devouring the books Hermione had brought him in an effort to stimulate his exhausted mind.

Certainly, he’d wavered for some time over giving uber-pureblood Narcissa a George Orwell novel, but something had compelled him, some impulse, and Cecile’s casual shrug and ‘A book is a book, Harry, it has the same meaning’ had given him the last push he’d needed to take the risk.

Positive risk-taking, his mind supplies, channelling Draco in his absence. He hopes.

“I’m aware it’s a Muggle book, Mr Potter.” Narcissa’s gaze is steady. “A very bold move.”

Harry can’t be sure if that’s a good thing or not, but his heart speeds uneasily. “I meant nothing by it, only that it’s a good story. Draco said you liked reading.”

“Is that so?” Her eyes drift once more to the pages smoothed flat under her pale fingers. “I’m yet to make up my mind. I find...” She pauses, almost cracking a smile as Zeus quietly returns to her side and flops down to sleep. “...I find I am uncertain of Mr Smith’s motivations so far.”

Quiet, cautious relief loosens Harry’s frozen posture. He takes another careful step into the room, allowing himself to enjoy the sun bathing his face. “Winston is the hero, sort of. He’s the rebel. I suppose you’re meant to root for him,” he offers.

Narcissa lifts the book briefly from her lap, indicating the fall of the pages. “At barely one third of the way through, Mr Potter, it seems too soon to know who to espouse.”

“There’s something to be said for, um... judicious reasoning,” Harry offers, suddenly feeling like he’s picking his way across a tightrope. With his net otherwise engaged, head in a fireplace with Mephisto bloody Marley. “But at the same time, is thought control ever a good thing?”

“Context is everything, Mr Potter.” Tilting her head slightly so that the blonde curtain slides over her shoulder, Narcissa adds, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to teach me a lesson of some kind.”

Harry shakes his head, wondering what’s taking Draco so long. “I wouldn’t presume to do that.”

“It would be quite unnecessary. You should know better than most that my son is the most important thing in the world to me, and that I act only out of concern for him,” she says calmly, though something dark momentarily haunts the pale eyes, and Harry is all at once transported with her to a night he’d rather forget.

“Likewise,” Harry says, equally calmly, unsure when the exchange became quite so unvarnished.

Her slow, controlled exhalation is harsh in the expectant silence. “Draco cares for you, Mr Potter.”

Harry swallows hard. “I know.”

Behind him, the door flies open and Draco’s sharp footsteps and soft muttering shatter the silence. “That man is just...” He trails off, drawing level with Harry’s side and glancing between them, grey eyes narrowed. “Is everything alright?”

A split-second glance passes between green eyes and blue; Narcissa folds her hands atop her new copy of 1984, and Harry thinks that actually, maybe it is. He nods, turning to Draco, and catches his brief warm smile.

“Harry gave me a cupboard,” Draco says, addressing his mother with an indulgent smirk. “For all of my frivolous Muggle bits and pieces,” he elaborates, and his heavy emphasis makes it apparent that Narcissa is no stranger to his love of paperclips and bits of string.

“Good grief,” says Narcissa, aristocratic features arranged in a twist of bemusement and resignation.

“Indeed.” Draco shifts slightly, brushing his shoulder against Harry’s. “She’s just jealous,” he whispers, and then: “Excuse us, Mother.”

As they turn to go, Harry smiles cautiously at the rustle of pages and the softly issued: “Per gratia, Mr Potter.”

“What was that all about?” Draco asks, once out in the corridor.

“I’m not sure. But I think I’m wearing her down.”

**~*~**

As the sunlight softens into an impressive, tea-coloured sunset, the blunted rays bring with them the nagging reminder that Harry has promised on pain of certain death to be at the Burrow for Molly’s traditional Boxing Day dinner, and that it can’t be long before he has to leave the Manor.

Astonishingly, Draco has been issued a—slightly reluctant—invitation, but has this time responded with a polite refusal. Harry can deal with that; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and besides, he’s not sure he’s ready for all the questions.

Still, it’s been one of the most relaxing days in recent memory, and he’s decidedly unenthusiastic about ending it. He hadn’t planned on spending the whole afternoon here, but for whatever reason, he’s a lot more comfortable here than he used to be, and it’s been all too easy to drift with Draco between the kitchen, the bedroom and the usual parlour, where they sit now in a comfortable almost-silence, the remains of a tea and dessert tray strewn across the low, oak table.

“What do you think about Psychodrama?” Draco asks, from his spot on the overstuffed sofa, back propped up against one squashy arm and legs stretched out over the cushions.

“I think I don’t know what it is,” Harry replies, half-listening to Draco as he snorts and starts reading aloud from the heavy book on his lap.

He’s sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa with his back to Draco and playing with the hand at the end of the arm that dangles over his shoulder.

“...action-based method instead of a talking therapy, you know?”

“I see,” Harry supplies, absently tracing the black mark on Draco’s skin with his fingertips, as he often does. Draco doesn’t jump any more when he touches it, but he occasionally gets an arched eyebrow or two for his trouble, especially when he does so in the bedroom.

Which is fairly, er, frequently, now Harry thinks about it. Especially since the Polyjuice incident. Which, essentially, surely indicates that he’s some sort of pervert, or sexual deviant.

Draco’s dry tone cuts into his thoughts and the long fingers flex and extend. “I don’t know what you’ve been told, but however hard you rub, that’s not going to come off.”

“Wouldn’t want it to,” Harry responds truthfully and without thinking.

As the words register in his head, he pauses in his line-stroking and tips his head back onto Draco’s chest, staring into puzzled grey eyes from a strange angle.

“Or, you know... something less weird.”

“You’ve—” Draco frowns and wraps the arm in question around Harry. “You should probably get going before Mother Weasel comes over here looking for you,” he finishes.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?”

He turns his nose into Draco’s sweater, inhaling deeply and trying not to think about what he’s starting to suspect is one of those weird... kink things. If it is, the irony in this case is definitely not appreciated.

“Twice in twenty-four hours is pushing it.”

Harry snorts and drags himself to his feet, leaning down to catch Draco’s mouth in a goodbye kiss that lasts a little longer than strictly necessary and sends trails of warmth burning right down to his fingertips.

“Try not to miss me too much, then,” he advises.

Draco stretches languorously and lets his book flop closed on top of him. He gazes up at Harry with half-lidded silvery eyes. “That’s hardly likely,” he says, but even as Harry puts his shoes back on and prepares to Disapparate, he knows that he won’t be sleeping alone tonight, and Draco knows that, too.

**~*~**

Molly Weasley is, quite literally, a wizard with leftovers.

By the time Harry leaves the table, he’s so stuffed full of food that breathing is a challenge, and he strongly suspects he won’t need to eat again until the New Year. The house is awash with Weasleys and their respective partners, with only George, Charlie and Harry not making up part of a couple.

Already on a high from his day with Draco, Harry is easily carried along with the warm, easy atmosphere and effortless camaraderie, relieved to find that Ron, Hermione, and—more tellingly—Molly, have forgiven him for his absence the previous day.

Sinking into the squashy old sofa, Harry accepts a glass of something warm, spicy and alcoholic from a George on a mission, and gazes contentedly at the shimmering lights and mismatched tinsel draped all over the huge, wonky Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

“We don’t see enough of you, Harry,” Arthur remarks from his armchair, sniffing at his own glass and looking up at his second-youngest son with a mixture of suspicion and affection. George just grins and turns away, offering the tray to Neville.

“I know. Work, work, work.” Harry smiles apologetically and sips the copper-coloured liquid. He gasps quietly as it blazes a hot trail all the way down his gullet and sets his head a-spin, just for a moment.

Arthur nods seriously. “It’s the same at the Ministry. Is this stuff drinkable, do you think?”

Harry smiles as hesitant blue eyes stare into the swirling liquid. “Think so. Go for it.”

Scratching at his thinning hair, Arthur shrugs and takes a drink, followed by a deep shudder. “Where’s young Malfoy, anyway?” he asks after a moment, startling Harry. “Molly tells me he was here yesterday evening.”

His tone is mild and completely without hostility, and Harry smiles in spite of his surprise, draining the contents of his glass with a shiver. “He’s at home. I think he was a bit intimidated,” he adds and then bites his lip, frowning. He hadn’t meant to say that.

“Well, there’s a turn-up for the books,” Arthur remarks, sounding amused. “Can’t say I ever cared much for Lucius, especially after what happened to Ginny...” His eyes flick briefly across the room to where Ginny is perched on Neville’s lap, laughing at Charlie with a glass in her hand. “...but young Draco seems to care for you. We’re all glad you found someone.”

He blinks in apparent confusion, gulps down the rest of his drink and sighs.

“Thanks.” Harry fiddles with his empty glass, thinking, and then suddenly adds: “I don’t think Molly was very glad I’d found him,” before he can stop himself.

“I tried to stop her sending that letter.” Arthur’s eyes are regretful. “She rarely listens to me,” he explains with a wry smile that crinkles his eyes at the corners.

“Don’t worry, I—” Harry stops short, at Neville’s sudden:

“Well, you are a bit heavy after you’ve been sitting there for a while, Ginny,” from across the room.

Followed immediately by Ginny’s offended huff and: “You weren’t saying that last night, were you?”

Astonished, Harry stares at them both. For a few seconds, he considers their out of character exchange, licking the sweet, spicy taste of the spirit from his lips as it slowly falls into place with a grim resignation that makes him raise his eyes to the ceiling.

“Fleur looks very pretty tonight, doesn’t she?” Arthur muses from his side, and Harry needs no further proof. They should all know better, every single one of them:

Never drink anything George gives you.

Harry looks over to where Bill’s wife is standing by the fireplace, a vision in grey silk. “If you like that sort of thing,” he replies, the words flying unchecked out of his mouth.

Arthur laughs. George is fucking dead.

“I can imagine what sort of thing—”

“Would you excuse me for a minute?” Harry interrupts, hauling himself to his feet before he can hear anything he doesn’t want to hear or say anything he doesn’t want to say.

Striding into the kitchen, he grins triumphantly to see George withdrawing from the pantry and clutching a huge chocolate cake. Harry folds his arms and blocks the doorway.

“What is it?”

“Alright, Harry?” George grins brightly and glances at the cake. “Chocolate fudge, I think. Want some?”

“No. What did you put in the drinks?” Harry demands, exasperated. “It’s like an honesty... festival in there.”

George adopts his patented innocent expression. “Harry old mate, really... I didn’t put anything in it. It’s TruthWhisky.”

“TruthWhisky,” Harry repeats faintly.

George nods, adjusting the cake in his arms. “It’s a new line, thought I’d test it out. Combines a milder form of Veritaserum with the naturally inhibition-lowering properties of alcohol—brilliant, eh? Just makes the drinker blurt everything out. In theory.”

“It’s working,” Harry advises. “I’m really glad Draco’s not here. He’d fucking kill you.”

“It’d be worth it,” George shrugs, blue eyes gleaming with delight.

“Would a warning have hurt?”

George shakes his head and regards Harry with a frighteningly seraphic smile. “Not for product testing, old boy. Everyone knows that blind testing is the most effective method—it’s a necessary evil.”

“You’re a necessary evil,” Harry mumbles, running his finger along the edge of the cake and gathering chocolate icing. “How long does it last?”

“About an hour... possibly.” George shrugs and backs away across the kitchen, cradling the cake protectively to his chest. “I’m going to go and watch the sparks fly!”

Harry watches him go, unable to stop his lips being tugged into a reluctant smile. Though they’re clearly a bunch of nutters, he really does love his adopted family. Sucking his chocolate-smeared finger into his mouth, he spares a thought for Draco, and the fact that although Harry would be intrigued to hear his uninhibited thoughts, Draco would be absolutely horrified to be so out of control.

Idly resolving to keep George away from Draco’s drinks at any future gatherings, he steps out into the dark garden and sits on the bench, looking up at the stars. After a moment, the air around him warms gently and he doesn’t need to look to recognise the person sitting down next to him; Hermione’s Warming Charms are renowned and distinctive.

“Clever ’Mione,” he mumbles.

She laughs. “You’re missing him,” she says. “You’ve been thinking about him all evening, I can tell.”

Harry glances down and notes the almost empty glass in his friend’s hand with a small smile. “I have not, I’m not completely obsessed by him, you know,” he insists, resting his elbows on his knees. “You know the Dark Mark thing?” he adds, closing his eyes and calmly plotting George’s demise.

“The... thing? No...” Hermione pauses, and he knows she’s looking at him hard. “Is this going to be a sex thing? Because if it is, it’s alright.”

Harry groans and drops his head into his hands.

“There’s something odd in this,” she sighs, looking into her glass. But when Harry sneaks a glance at her through his fingers, she merely shrugs, unconcerned, and sets it down, gazing at him expectantly with hands folded in her lap.

“It’s not a sex thing,” he insists, face heating, and it’s only a bit of a lie. God, he’s so screwed. “Well, not really, I just...” The words bubble up in Harry’s throat, determined to escape. “It’s, erm... interesting, you know? I always seem to... hot, in a weird way... what the hell’s wrong with me?”

His words are almost a wail, and he pushes fingertips into his hair, horrified. It’s just Draco, he reasons, just another part of Draco that’s stark, harsh, dark and inappropriately beautiful.

Hermione says nothing for a while, and he marvels at her self-control, even apparently under the influence of TruthWhisky.

“Is it the bad boy thing?” she asks eventually, before clarifying: “The reformed bad boy thing?”

“The what?”

“You know... like tattoos are sexy, and scars and scary piercings. It’s the same sort of thing.”

Her matter-of-fact tone makes Harry lift his head out of his hands to look at her, astonished. “You think scars are sexy?”

“Well, I didn’t mean me personally, but...” Hermione flushes slightly. “A bit, yeah.”

Harry rubs his eyes and leans against her. “Oh, bloody hell, ’Mione, we’re both twisted.”

She laughs, slender shoulder shaking against his. “It’s not twisted, it’s something exciting. A bit of an edge. You can’t be dating Draco Malfoy and deny that you’re at least a little bit into all that.”

Harry contemplates this statement and wonders if perhaps Hermione never needed TruthWhisky to start with; he doesn’t actually think this conversation would have been any different from her end without it. The wind whistles through the trees, and a soft creak snags Harry’s senses for a moment.

“Yeah, well. It’s weird. And he’d be horrified if he knew, I’m sure he’s got loads of horrible memories associated with it.”

“Maybe not,” she counters, raking back errant curls caught by the breeze. “Ron has some scars... he knows I like them, and of course he didn’t exactly get those in happy circumstances, but it doesn’t freak him out.”

Harry’s eyes widen. “Well...” He bites the inside of his mouth, and George dies one more fiery death. There’s no way he’s going home until this has worn off. “I’m not about to say, ‘Hey, Draco, you know that Death Eater thing on your arm? I’ve started to find it a bit of a turn on.’”

“You could. There’s something to be said for candour.” Hermione pats his hand encouragingly. “My point is, time can change perspectives, and just because something once had a certain meaning, doesn’t mean that it always has to have that meaning.”

“I’m still twisted,” Harry says after a moment.

Hermione smiles. “It’s a distinct possibility.”

“You know,” adds a third, strained voice, “I could have quite happily gone my whole life without ever hearing that conversation.”

“That’s what you get for eavesdropping,” Harry says, twisting to watch Ron step fully into the garden, hands shoved into his pockets.

“Well, I had to get away from the living room. Mum’s started telling some very disturbing stories about when she and Dad were younger.” His freckled nose scrunches up in disgust. “And it’s happening out here as well... I can’t believe you two would drink anything George offered you when he had that look on his face,” he complains.

Hermione sighs. “Ron, don’t be dramatic, you know I like your scars. Anyway, Harry, is it just when you’re in bed that it’s a turn on, or is it—”

“Argh. No. Stop it.”

“Is that being supportive, Ron?” she enquires sweetly, and Harry feels suddenly like they’ve had this argument before.

“I’m going to go and be supportive in the kitchen, if that’s alright with you.”

“Yeah, mate, that’s fine.” Harry stifles a laugh, and when his silent ‘You’re in for a lecture later,’ remains silent, he grins at the rediscovery of his self-control. It hasn’t even been twenty minutes; George is going to be very unimpressed.

“Ooh, what’s everyone doing out here?” Ginny pushes past Ron and heads immediately for the shelter of Hermione’s Warming Charm.

“We were just discussing Harry’s sex life,” Hermione says brightly, ignoring Harry’s protests and Ron’s groan as he retreats back into the house, door flapping behind him.

“Rather his than my parents’,” Ginny says darkly, flopping down on Harry’s other side and pulling her feet up onto the bench. “I think Nev’ll be out in a minute, too. George is going to be in so much trouble when they realise.”

“Or perhaps sooner than that. I think I’ll go and have a word with him,” Harry murmurs, rising and heading for the kitchen door very, very carefully, hoping not to attract their attention to his escape bid.

“Kinky,” Hermione is saying as he opens the door, making him wonder just how many she’s had.

“Knew it,” Ginny replies, and Harry shakes his head.

It’s no small wonder that he fits right in.

**~*~**

The moment Harry returns to work, it’s as though he’s never been away, and to his dismay, the workload doesn’t appear to have slowed down one bit. And, worse than that, the Christmas decorations are still up. To his utter amazement, he makes it out of the hospital on New Year’s Eve having only worked one hour over his scheduled shift end. He waves merrily to Cecile as he backs toward the exit and she equally merrily gives him the finger.

When Draco is nowhere to be found either at Grimmauld Place or the Manor, Harry walks into Ron and Hermione’s house party alone, only to be astonished by the fact that not only has Draco braved the throng of Weasleys, assorted Ministry staff and ex-Hogwarts students on his own, but that he’s quite happily engaged in a bizarre three-way conversation with Arthur Weasley and Salvatore Rodriguez.

Apart from anything else, Harry can’t help but wonder who invited him.

Hermione appears, sparkling and beautiful, and presses a drink into his hand.

“They’ve been talking for ages,” she confides, raising her voice above the music and laughter. “And no one’s given him a hard time, before you ask.”

Harry looks down into sincere brown eyes and gives Hermione’s arm a squeeze. “Thanks.”

“You’re always safe here, Harry. Both of you.”

It’s a while before he rasps, “I know,” and crushes her against him, flooded with warmth.

When Ron approaches the odd little group and begins a brief but intense and eyeroll-heavy exchange with his partner, Draco looks up and meets Harry’s eyes. Genuine pleasure and surprise flares in the grey irises, and his slow smile is so bright that across the room, Harry’s breath hitches and his reciprocating smile is completely involuntary.

Blatantly looking him up and down, Harry admires the way Draco can make head-to-toe black look very, very good indeed. The gesture is returned with a dry smirk and Harry feels those eyes all over his body. Beside him, Hermione sighs.

“Well, that’s it. I’ve lost both of you now, haven’t I? I was just about to ask Draco his thoughts on my first draft of our paper.”

“You’ve lost Draco’s paper?” Harry glances at her, brows knitted.

Hermione’s sigh is heavy, but her lips curve into a smile. “Go,” she insists, prodding him across the living room floor toward Draco.

Just before midnight, Harry scans the packed flat for Draco without success, before catching sight of a flash of blond hair beyond the set of French doors. He steps out onto the tiny balcony and wraps his arms around Draco’s waist from behind, following his eyes to gaze down at Wizarding London from five floors up. Cold, citrus-scented hair whips across Harry’s face and he opts to bury his nose in the crisp dark fabric of Draco’s shirt.

“What are you looking for?” Harry asks, speaking softly now that the sounds of the party are muffled through a layer of glass.

Draco laughs softly, withdrawing his hands from the balcony rail and wrapping them, cold and firm, over Harry’s. “That’s a big question.”

Harry presses closer into the warmth of Draco’s back. “And if it is?”

One minute to go!” yells Hermione, loud enough to permeate the glass.

“It is. It’s the biggest one there is, apart from ‘why?’ I’m looking for what everyone’s looking for. Fulfilment. Success. A chance.”

“Is that all?”

Draco turns in his arms, leaning back against the balcony and drawing Harry closer until they stand almost nose to nose in the freezing winter air.

“Those are all the things I’m still looking for. I’m not looking for things I already have.” Silver-grey eyes burn into Harry’s and strong hands grip his upper arms tightly. All-too-briefly, the soft, mocking mouth curves into a smile and Harry aches with love and relief.

“Ten seconds!” comes the cry from within, and the inevitable countdown follows. Harry wonders if anyone’s looking for them.

“You know the rule about whatever you’re doing on the strike of twelve,” Harry says, threading careful fingers into windswept blond hair. “Better make it good.”

“It’s always good,” Draco protests, but leans easily into the touch anyway, mouth drawn helplessly to Harry’s as the last of the year slips away. Harry watches his eyes fall closed, pale eyelashes fanned out against equally pale skin. Beautiful. “I think,” Draco whispers, mouth a whisper from Harry’s, breath warm and sweet, “that whatever you’re not asking me... I think the answer’s probably yes.”

Hope and pleasure leap and collide messily somewhere inside Harry’s chest and his smile stretches wide against Draco’s skin. “It’s yes for me, too,” he whispers back.

The collective cry of “Happy New Year!” from beyond the glass barely registers in Harry’s ears, because he’s leaning in that last fraction of an inch and kissing Draco with everything he has. Feeling that, whatever mundanity or drama the morning brings, here with Draco’s cold hands on his face and Draco’s warm promise against his lips, they might just be standing on the edge of something.

**~*~**

Predictably though, as January picks up speed, Harry has very little time to think it over. Just as the Christmas rush settles down, new rotations loom over the new Healers, and competition is fiercer than ever to secure the best spots. Having long given up any hope of Tremellen’s approval, Harry continues to work steadily, watching his co-workers tie themselves into knots trying to impress the sour Department Head.

In his spare time, such that it is, he finds himself at the Manor more and more. Saturday morning sex-toast-and-crosswords at Grimmauld Place remain sacred, as they both insist on checking thoroughly that everything’s back where it should be after Friday night Polyjuice outings, but there’s still a lot to be done with the fledgling Not-Malfoy Manor Chem Dep and Harry is determined to help.

The second week of the New Year brings with it two Ministry owls that manage, impressively, to render Draco speechless. For a good few seconds, anyway, before the soft cursing kicks in and he turns large, astonished eyes to Harry’s, handing over the parchments and hiding his smile with hands pressed to his face.

Draco and Shelagh’s painstaking trials have secured the Ministry approval which will allow them to sell the improved Chromia detox back to Stage One at St Mungo’s, providing a steady income for the new project.

Harry had been fairly confident in that result, but the second letter actually restores a little bit of his faith in the Ministry’s capacity for good sense. It appears that the powers that be are happy for anyone to open a unit in the current climate, especially one that isn’t relying on them for funding.

That, and the fact that Harry Potter has his name vaguely attached to the venture, is apparently enough for them to rubber-stamp Draco’s plans and licence application with frightening alacrity. Hermione had been right after all, and it wouldn’t surprise Harry if she’d sent a strongly-worded owl of recommendation to the relevant office, or if she’d chosen to throw the whole weight of her committee behind Draco.

“We’re approved,” Draco says, finally letting his hands fall to his sides, revealing a genuine, pleased half-smile. “I have something from the Ministry with my name on it, saying ‘You’re approved.’ Fuck, that’s weird.”

“Approved and with ‘your application for funding pending review and regulatory consideration,’” Harry reads aloud. “What do you think that means, really?”

“Merlin only knows.” Draco shrugs. “We’ll ask Hermione, she speaks Ministry.”

Harry grins at the casual words and drags Draco into his personal space, hooking fingers into his belt loops. If Draco’s upset at possibly obtaining the approval on the basis of their influence, he’s for once not complaining about it. For Harry, it’s actually satisfying that his stupid name holds some weight at the Ministry, even if it counts for bugger all at St Mungo’s, because at least he can still help Draco with this.

When, later that week, they do ask Hermione for a translation, she just rolls her eyes, and then she and Draco spend a good half-hour frowning and scribbling on napkins; Harry and Ron watch from the sidelines and eat their Pad Thai while it’s still warm.

“I never thought I’d say this,” Ron says, voice lowered, “but I think maybe they’re sort of good for each other. She knows I’m not really paying attention when she starts going on about statistics and things, but he’s listening, look at him.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow and looks, sucking a long noodle into his mouth.

“But, is that on a standard scale?” Draco is asking, eyes narrowed.

“Don’t be silly, Draco,” Hermione admonishes, shoving the napkin closer to him.

Amused, Harry drops a hand to his thigh under the table. Draco’s lips twitch into a brief, lop-sided smile.

“You know, you haven’t said, ‘I can’t believe you’re seeing Malfoy’ for a while.”

Ron chews thoughtfully. “I suppose it’s because now I can.”

**~*~**

Despite Draco’s one time reservations about entangling his fortunes with a bunch of ex-Gryffindors, the whole thing is beginning to have the distinct feeling of a team effort. Hermione is admirably holding up the Ministry end with a little help from Ron and his new division, Harry is securing promises from Shelagh Carmichael to refer Stage One patients straight over to them from St Mungo’s after detox, and Ginny has handed in her notice at the shop in order to spend most days at the Manor with Draco and Fyz as they attempt to turn the bare East Wing into a warm, comfortable space for therapy and recovery.

Scary Craft Lady is also there on a regular basis, and has as yet done nothing to convince Harry that she’s undeserving of her name.

Mephisto Marley has yet to make an appearance, but Draco insists he’s expected in from Dublin any day now, and apparently, “He’s always liked to make an entrance, anyway.” Harry wishes he could explain away his trepidation, but he can’t, so he tries not to think about it.

As he applies one last Shielding Charm to the lounge wall, tucks his wand away and goes to find Draco in his half-finished office, he wonders if the beginning part of a relationship—not that he’s had a lot of them—isn’t supposed to be like this.

“Done?” Draco looks up over the top of his notebook.

“Of course.” Harry leans against the doorframe, smug.

“That was quick, did you do it properly?”

Barely resisting the temptation to retort, “I’ll do you properly”, Harry just smiles, lifts an eyebrow and steps into the office. He drops into a crouch next to Draco’s chair and presses a soft kiss to his lips, pulling him down into it with a firm hand around the back of his neck.

“Yes.”

“Yes, yourself,” Draco says, trying not to smile as he nudges Harry away. “Mind my quill.”

This... easy, careless insulting, needling, competition, hot sex and casual affection, set against the surreal backdrop of trying to set up a rehab centre. It’s... different. But then again, he doesn’t suppose anything involving him and Draco was ever to going to be normal, simple or average.

On balance, he likes it the way it is.

**~*~**

As his peers chase their own tails under Tremellen’s critical dark gaze, trying to find, diagnose and treat the most interesting cases they can, Harry finds himself with a number of long term patients. Having spent a month in Chem Dep, he’s more accustomed to this than he otherwise might’ve been, and actually relishes the chance to get to know his patients a little bit better.

Unsurprisingly, three of these patients are elderly witches, who are full of gratitude to have someone prepared to listen to their tales from the past, and who seem to take Harry’s presence at their bedsides as an invitation for full-on flirting.

And then there’s Romilda. Repeated testing for Dark spells and curses, and then in desperation, Muggle diseases, have turned up nothing untoward and so she remains in her bed on Gen One with Clive by her side. Her frustration at her increasing weakness is painfully obvious to Harry, even though she’s doing her level best to hide it; equally frustrated, Harry starts to chat to her about anything, everything, to distract her from each new round of tests and treatments.

“I’m going to be an Unspeakable, you know,” she confides, slumped back against her pillows as Harry squints and picks through the dual-layered energy field he’s cast around her.

“Yeah?” He glances up into tired dark eyes, impressed.

“Mmhm. Got the acceptance letter and everything. I’m supposed to start training in the summer.” She looks over at Clive, who’s watching Harry’s wand movements with round blue eyes, completely ignoring the gaudy picture book in his lap. “It’ll be a new start for me and him.”

Harry nods, understanding. His eyes stray to the bags under Clive’s chair, recalling one of their earlier conversations, when Eloise had taken the surprisingly trusting little boy for hot chocolate in the canteen, and Romilda had told Harry all about the controlling ex-partner she’d once hoped would want to be a father to Clive.

“Congratulations,” he offers with a sincere smile. “That’s a hard programme to get into.”

Romilda smiles wearily, eyes closing again. “Yeah. Just got to get this sorted, and then...”

The top layer of the shimmering field flickers and dulls, confirming to Harry that she’s lost consciousness once more, and he sighs. Anxiety and guilt tweak at his insides as he continues to work; he worries that ‘just’ getting this sorted might not be as simple as all that, despite the faith patients always seem to place in his abilities.

“Mummy’s sleeping again,” Clive whispers, looking up at Harry for confirmation.

“Yeah, she is, but don’t worry,” Harry says, pushing the uncertainty out of his voice.

Clive blinks slowly and he chews his lip, scrambling to lean up in his chair and prod gently at his mother with a small hand. Romilda stirs and opens her eyes with apparent effort.

“Sorry, sweetheart.”

“Harry,” comes the loud whisper from the ward door, and he turns to see Eloise beckoning to him.

“She needs to sleep,” Eloise continues when he reaches her side.

“I know that, El.” Harry rubs his face and sighs. “What am I supposed to do with him?”

“I don’t know,” she says softly. “Anything, at this point. Look... Harry, I don’t want to undermine your authority, believe me, but I’ve seen this sort of thing before and it’s not helping either of them for that little boy to be spending every hour sitting next to her bed like that.”

“Thing is,” Terry puts in, looking up from where he’s leaning against the nurses’ station scanning a chart, “he’s old enough to understand his mum’s really tired but not old enough to understand why. He needs a change of scenery, poor kid.”

He knows they’re right, but frustration grips Harry and he snaps, “How come you two are such experts, anyway?”

“No expert,” Terry demurs. “Month on the children’s ward was pretty educational, though.”

“Seven nieces and nephews,” Eloise offers.

“Should I be providing tea and biscuits for this mother’s meeting?” Tremellen snaps as he passes. “Nurse Midgen, I need you.”

Eloise casts an apologetic glance over his shoulder as she trails after Tremellen, and Harry smiles briefly to see the rude gesture Terry is making behind his chart. For a moment, he stands in the ward doorway, watching Romilda fight for consciousness as her son points something out in his picture book. Strictly speaking of course, this isn’t his responsibility. This is the above-and-beyond stuff Draco’s always teasing him for, but he doesn’t really know how else to be.

Suddenly, he can hear Tremellen’s voice in his head, insisting: ‘The patient is your responsibility, Healer Potter. Her offspring is none of your concern’ and his mind is made up.

“Romilda?” He drops his voice and crouches by the side of her bed. “Listen, I’m about to go on my lunch break, and if you want, I could take Clive with me to the Manor. He’d love the grounds; there’re loads of animals and things for him to look at, and then...” Harry hesitates, but the half-open dark eyes are filled with reluctant hope. “Someone could watch him for a little while, and you could get some sleep. Ginny’ll be there, you know Ginny Weasley? It’s really important that you get some rest, and I—”

She lifts her hand a couple of inches off the sheets, silencing him. “Yes. S’OK. Can’t look after him like this, can I? Can’t... thank you, Healer. Harry,” she adds. “Be good, sweetheart,” she whispers in Clive’s direction before her eyes close again.

Harry casts Tempus and decides it’s close enough to his official lunch time to make a break for it. Ginny’s good with kids. He only hopes Draco won’t be too upset to have her pulled away from work for the afternoon. Harry suspects he’ll be able to make it up to him.

Looking at Clive, he offers what he hopes is an encouraging smile. “Want to go on an adventure?”

**~*~**

Clive’s look of astonishment when Harry removes and shrinks down his green robes is amusing enough, but it’s nothing compared to the open-mouthed awe when Harry sets him down inside the gates of the Manor and he turns in dizzying circles, gaping at the acres of manicured gardens, trees, water and brightly-coloured creatures huddling together against the winter frost.

From what Romilda has told him, Clive’s a complete city boy and has likely never seen anything like this in his short life, and Harry supposes he was impressed enough the first time he walked up this driveway. The child isn’t a big talker anyway, but he’s almost silent as he hangs onto Harry’s hand and hurries to keep up.

“When we get to the end of this drive, you’ll see Malfoy Manor,” Harry explains, feeling completely out of his depth. It’s not that he’s bad with children, per se, just inexperienced. His work means that he doesn’t see his godson nearly as often as he should, and none of his friends have kids yet. “It’s a really big, beautiful house, and my friend Draco and his mum live there.”

“How old is your friend?” Clive wants to know, small fingers wrapping more tightly around Harry’s hand.

Harry bites back his laughter. “He’s twenty-three, the same as me.”

“Wow. That’s really old.”

Harry raises an eyebrow and smiles in spite of almost being a tiny bit offended. “Yeah, it is,” he concedes. “There are other people there, too. Nice people. They’re going to open a sort of hospital here, in a little while.”

“Like where Mummy is?”

“Kind of. Draco has—”

“Oh, pretty,” Clive whispers, cutting him off, and Harry looks down sharply to see the little boy reaching out a curious hand toward a fast-approaching Evil Peacock.

Fuck. That paternal instinct he wasn’t sure he had kicks in hard and within half a second, Clive has been yanked off the ground and held protectively against Harry’s hip. Clive laughs delightedly, Evil Peacock looks disgruntled, and Harry gets a sharp nip to the ankle for his trouble.

Shaking his head, Harry carries Clive the rest of the way up to the house.

Flimby darts intrigued glances at the small child accompanying Mr Harry Potter Sir, but obediently disappears at Harry’s request for him to fetch Ginny and Draco.

“She’s on a reconnaissance mission,” Draco announces, striding into the entrance hall, wiping his hands on an ink-splattered handkerchief. He doesn’t seem to have noticed Clive, half hidden behind Harry’s legs.

Harry decides to give him a moment, considering he’s so bloody observant.

“Dare I ask?”

“She’s gone to one of the top Muggle long stay rehab centres, posing as a Social Work student. She’s going to get loads of information and a tour, and then come back and put the memory in my Pensieve so we can steal all their ideas. The good ones, at least,” Draco amends, crossing his arms and looking pleased with himself.

Harry’s reluctantly impressed. And confused.

“Why didn’t you go? I thought you’d love to have a nose round a Muggle rehab.”

“Oh, I would, but Fyzal seemed to think they’d have trouble believing in me as a student, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Ginevra has that lovely wide-eyed ‘Oh, really? Tell me more... how interesting’ look about her, doesn’t she?”

Draco flashes a bright smile that makes his eyes glow silver, and warmth wraps tightly and abruptly around Harry’s heart. “Poor Ginny,” he murmurs, and Draco shrugs.

“Good grief, who’s that?” he asks suddenly, and Harry smirks, holding out his hand for Clive to take again.

“Clive, this is Draco Malfoy. My very old friend,” he adds, and he and Clive share a significant look. “Son of that patient I was telling you about,” he adds in a significant undertone to Draco. “I was hoping Gin might be able to watch him for a couple of hours.”

“Er, hello, Clive,” Draco says formally, and for a moment Harry thinks he’s going to hold out a hand for shaking, but he just crosses his arms tighter and stares at Harry, who can’t help but be completely charmed; he’s never seen Draco on the back foot like this and it’s intriguing.

“’Lo, Drake,” Clive whispers, blue eyes huge.

Draco’s horrified expression is immediate, and Harry bites down on his lip hard, but can’t stop a soft snort of amusement from escaping. He wonders what happened to the last person who tried to shorten Draco’s name.

He watches with interest the little line appear between blond eyebrows as Draco tries to decide how to respond.

“Draco,” he corrects eventually, in an impressively kind voice. “A drake is a duck, darling. Do I look like a duck to you?”

Clive looks at Harry for help. “You’d better not answer that.” Darling? he mouths at Draco, eyebrows raised.

Draco scowls. “I don’t have much... erm, experience with children, alright? That’s what my mother used to say.”

“Sorry, Drake,” Clive offers, taking a conciliatory step closer to him.

“Right,” Draco whispers, flicking bewildered eyes up to Harry’s and looking so proud and uncertain that had he not already been lost, Harry’s fate would have been permanently sealed in that moment.

And then he remembers why he’s here, and wonders what he’s supposed to do next. None of his plans had factored in an absent Ginny. “I just need someone to watch him for a couple of hours, while we—”

“Look,” Clive breathes, snapping him out of his thoughts. He follows the child’s gaze to where an enthusiastic-looking Zeus is skittering across the entrance hall towards them.

Narcissa follows him at a more sedate pace, and Harry wonders just how long they’ve had an audience. To Harry’s surprise, she all but ignores him, first smiling faintly at her son and then addressing Clive, who is standing right next to Zeus but not touching him.

“He won’t bite you, it’s alright.”

The three adults watch for a moment as Clive chews his lip and tentatively strokes the silky white ears.

“I will watch him, Mr Potter,” Narcissa says calmly.

Blindsided by the offer, Harry inhales sharply and stares at her, trying to read her face; the expression is strangely open, and equal parts challenge and appeal. The pale blue eyes are steady, and hold his without wavering.

“Ginevra will be back soon, and I’m... here,” Draco offers uncertainly, and Harry turns to him, torn.

Their communication is swift, tacit and explicit; silent questions of trust and assurances of safety are exchanged without the need for words. Until finally it’s clear: Harry needs this for his patient, Clive seems at ease, and Harry trusts Draco trusts Narcissa. He has a funny feeling she won’t offer again.

“Thank you,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I’d really appreciate that, Mrs Malfoy.”

At his side, Clive giggles as a wet nose insinuates itself behind his ear. Narcissa smiles behind her curtain of hair, leaning down to speak to the child and the animal.

“Why are you telling small children that I’m very old?” Draco says suddenly.

Harry grins, trailing a hand over his crossed arms and pulling them away from his chest. He squeezes Draco’s wrist briefly before he lets go, and it’s all he can do not to kiss him right there in the entrance hall.

“No particular reason.”

Chapter Text

It’s almost dark outside when Harry slips out to collect Clive, some three hours later. He persuades Cecile to distract Tremellen with a Healing enquiry while he returns to the Manor.

“The things I do for you,” she mutters, her long-suffering expression melting into one of false sweetness as she approaches the Department Head. “Do you have a minute, Healer Tremellen? There’s something I’d like your opinion on...”

As he enters the house and hurriedly follows the sound of voices along a portrait-lined ground floor corridor, he muses on the importance of good friends, and just what favour Cecile plans to extract from him in return. He stops and pushes open the door of Narcissa’s sun-room an inch or two.

The sight that greets him is nothing short of astonishing. The elegant blonde is leaning slightly forward in her chair next to the window, talking softly to Clive as he sits at her feet like some kind of royal subject, looking up at her with wide eyes and plucking experimentally at Zeus’ tails. Zeus, for his part, doesn’t appear to mind this treatment one bit, and is chewing on one of Clive’s shoelaces.

“Zoos,” he calls softly, glancing at the Crup before looking back up at Narcissa. “I’m not allowed a dog,” he adds darkly.

“He’s a Crup,” she corrects gently. “A special kind of dog.”

That’s not what she said to me, Harry thinks petulantly, wondering where the hell Ginny is.

“He said she was coming back,” he says to the empty hallway, not expecting a response.

“She did.”

Harry jumps slightly and whips around to find himself looking into amused dark eyes. “Where is she, then?”

“Upstairs with Drake,” Fyz replies, smirking. “She tried, they both did, but the kid wanted to stay with the Ice Queen and her mutt.” He shrugs.

“Do you call her that to her face?”

“I haven’t a death wish.” Fyz turns his eyes back to the crack in the door and Harry does the same.

There’s something captivating about the peaceful scene, and even though he knows that the longer he spends here, the more creative and painful a death Cecile will be plotting for him, he can’t look away.

“Do you know why my mummy can’t play with me?” Clive asks suddenly.

Narcissa’s pale brow wrinkles and she sighs softly. “No, sweetheart. But I’m certain it’s not because she doesn’t want to.”

Clive seems to consider this, wriggling on the large silk cushion he’s sitting on. “Are you too old to play with me?”

Harry raises his eyebrows and waits with interest for the response. After a moment, Narcissa smiles, and the expression of genuine amusement transforms her haughty features. He doesn’t catch her reply because he’s so taken aback by the cautious warmth on her face; startled, he shoots out a hand and wraps his fingers around Fyzal’s warm wrist.

Clive is laughing and trying to resist Zeus’ sudden attempt to drag him across the room by his shoelace when Narcissa glances up and Harry steps back from the door, caught by the surprising feeling that he’s intruding somehow.

Fyz smirks as Harry releases him. “Out of interest, who the hell did you think I was just then?”

Harry shoots him a look. “The hell person who was standing next to me when something fucking weird happened.”

“Fair point. Draco says he hasn’t seen her smile like that in years,” Fyz concedes.

“I can believe that.” Harry glances back at the door and listens to the excitable yapping now issuing from within. “Can you tell him thanks, and that I can’t stay but I’ll see him later?”

Fyz fires off a mock salute and Disapparates.

Reluctantly, Harry walks into the room and all three occupants look up at him in surprise.

“Time to go, mate,” he says, holding out a hand to Clive. “Bet your mum’s missing you.”

The little boy’s expression is torn, and he takes an inordinately long time to say goodbye to Zeus, stroking the white fur with careful little hands and whispering into the twitching ears. Narcissa watches him and oddly, doesn’t correct him when he scrambles to his feet and solemnly says, “Bye, Mrs Mafloy.”

“Goodbye, Clive.” She turns to regard Harry as he scoops the child up for the walk back down the drive, pale eyes steady and almost sad.

“Thanks.” Harry looks at her over the top of Clive’s head, feeling a faint tug of warmth in his chest for her for the first time ever. “That’s been a big help. Pera gratia,” he adds, flashing a smile.

Narcissa lifts a pale eyebrow at the deliberate mistake and looks out of the window. The grounds are shrouded in darkness and the glass clearly reflects the tiny smile she’s trying to hide.

**~*~**

The following day, Tuesday, is the big reveal for the trainees’ new rotations, and there’s a buzz of excitement in the corridor as the eight Healers wait for Tremellen to appear with his sheet of parchment. Though he’s not really excited like the others, Harry can’t help but be curious to find out which horrible assignment Tremellen has managed to land him with for the next four weeks.

“Your attention, Hatchlings.”

The man has lost none of his sense of theatre, and the parchment he holds flies gracefully across the corridor to stick against the wall, but as the others race to look at it, Harry pauses and frowns at the dissatisfied expression on his mentor’s face.

Interesting.

“Fuck me, you got Reversals!” Cecile cries, and it takes several seconds for Harry to realise she’s speaking to him.

“What?”

“Modulate your language, Healer Mackenzie,” Tremellen snaps, and she turns repentant green eyes to him for approximately half a second before looking back to Harry and grinning. “New assignments will commence this Monday, and I need not remind you that your performance evaluations will come directly to me.”

The second he’s gone, Harry turns back to Cecile, who’s poking at him none-too-gently with her wand, trying to get his attention. She must be mistaken, of course. Tremellen would never give him Dark Arts Reversals in a million years. Tremellen hates him.

“I don’t believe you,” Harry says, ignoring her eye-roll and striding over to examine the parchment for himself. And there it is.

Healer H. PotterDark Arts Reversals. 2nd Floor.

Working Under: Healer L. Aquiline.

Surprise, confusion and pleasure twist together in his belly and he smiles, baffled. He scans the list for his friends’ names and notes that Cecile is going to Spell Damage and Terry to Trauma; they seem satisfied enough when Harry turns to look at them, and he can understand that—both are interesting and challenging departments.

What he can’t understand is what Tremellen is up to.

“Maybe he’s had a bump to the head,” Terry suggests, coming to stare at the parchment with Harry.

“Maybe he’s up to something,” Cecile adds, examining her wand at close range with narrowed eyes.

“Wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Maybe he was feeling sorry for you,” offers Daisy uncertainly from across the hall. She rarely speaks to Harry, which is fine with him because she’s extremely annoying, but now he turns and looks at her questioningly.

“I doubt that. Why would he feel sorry for me?”

Daisy tosses her blonde ponytail over her shoulder. “Haven’t you seen the Prophet this morning?”

Harry’s heart sinks. He hasn’t; he and Draco were in a rush this morning, and after a cursory glance at the front page had dumped the paper on the kitchen table to look at later.

“No, but I can guarantee that there’s nothing in there that could make Tremellen feel sorry for me,” he replies, fixing Daisy with a steady look. “And I don’t think that’s quite how this works, anyway.”

“I was only saying.” She shrugs and turns away.

“That girl was in some other queue when they were handing out observation skills, wasn’t she?” Cecile remarks, finally putting her wand away, seemingly satisfied.

“She passed training,” Terry is saying, shaking his head slowly. “How did she pass training? The mind boggles.”

Terry and Cecile are exchanging significant looks and Harry decides he doesn’t want to hear the end of that thought process. Irritation spiking already, he heads for the nearest waiting room to find a copy of the Prophet.

Fortunately, the room is fairly quiet at this time in the morning and he soon unearths one, flicking through it until he finds a double page spread entitled: ‘Malfoy Plot to Halt Potter Line – will Draco Malfoy stop at nothing to prevent our Saviour from producing an heir?

Harry scans the article, fingers clenching the paper until it almost rips, headache blooming fiercely. Somewhere amongst his gritted teeth and desire to see Rita Skeeter’s head on a stick, he’s almost amused at the thought that this article would provoke sympathy from Tremellen; the bastard probably gets off on reading more made-up slurs about Draco.

“Who said I bloody wanted a Potter heir anyway?” he mutters to himself, and a patient sitting across the room looks up at him anxiously.

“Mr Renton?” Eloise calls from the doorway, and the man gets up, still staring at Harry.

“It’s not true, you know!” Harry snaps, throwing the paper down on the table and turning on his heel.

“What’s the matter?” Eloise whispers, catching him at the doorway, patient behind her.

“Where do you want me to start?” Harry mutters and stalks past her, robes flapping behind him as he puts as much distance between himself and that paper as possible.

Though reporters are still taking any opportunity to snap Harry and Draco together in public, for the most part, the scathing articles have decreased in frequency over the last few weeks. It’s all too clear, though, that nasty speculation about Draco’s intentions is still an effective way to sell papers.

By the time he’s stomped all the way to Gen One, his irritation is rippling around him and on top of it, he’s now feeling guilty for snapping at Eloise. Closing his eyes briefly, Harry drags his breathing into a controlled rhythm and Summons a stack of charts into his arms; he still has a job to do, after all. Whatever Tremellen’s up to, and whatever the stupid media are doing.

He hopes Draco hasn’t seen it. Ginny’s proved herself pretty quick off the mark with an Incendio, especially when she has to work with Draco for the rest of the day, so there’s a chance he hasn’t.

His first patient is sleeping under a potion and he’s grateful that he doesn’t have to speak to her as he runs his checks and scowls.

“Bloody hell, cheer up, will you?”

Harry looks up to see Romilda, who had also been sleeping, now leaning up on her elbows and looking at him with her head on one side. He looks back to his patient, frown embedded in his forehead.

“Just give me a reason,” he says sarcastically before he can stop himself.

“Oooookay.”

Her tone is part apologetic and part taken-aback, and Harry winces; there’s no excuse for snapping at patients. Ever. He just really fucking hates being told to cheer up. Sliding eyes to her, he watches her reach out to stroke Clive’s head as he sleeps at her side.

He sighs and completes his tests in silence. She doesn’t speak to him again and the guilt he’d already been feeling blossoms into searing remorse. As he’s preparing to leave the room, he hesitates at the end of her bed; she’s still awake but determinedly not looking at him.

“I’m sorry, Romilda. It’s not your fault, I shouldn’t have snapped. It’s just—”

“Mmhm. Have you got a bit of parchment?” she interrupts.

Harry frowns. “Er... yeah. Of course.” He hands her a slightly ragged roll of parchment fished from the pocket of his robe, and she takes his spare pencil when he offers it.

“Don’t worry,” she says, tucking them under her pillow, turning dark eyes up to his at last, and then letting them fall closed.

Confusion washes over Harry, dampening his irritation, and he watches the sleeping pair for a moment or two before going to find—and apologise to—Eloise.

**~*~**

A relatively hassle-free morning restores his good humour somewhat, and it’s a calmer, if still slightly touchy Harry that returns to Gen One after lunch. Romilda is the last patient on his afternoon round, and she sleeps as Clive leans over the arm of his chair and watches Harry wearily perform the usual checks.

The knowledge that he has less than a week left on this case before his new rotation does nothing to help his feeling of powerlessness; the last thing he wants to do is hand over a patient to another Healer with no useful diagnosis at all, but it looks as though that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“What colour comes next?” he asks Clive, in an attempt to distract himself from that thought.

“The blue one,” Clive says, arms dangling over the chair-arm. “Smells nice,” he adds, having seen this progression of Diagnostic Charms many times before.

Harry smiles. “That’s right. Do you know what it smells like?”

Clive shakes his head, chewing on his thumb.

“Lavender,” Romilda murmurs, opening one eye. “Smells like old ladies.”

Harry laughs. “Afternoon. How are you feeling?”

“Disgusting.” She opens the other eye and gropes under her pillow. “I made a list.”

“A list?”

“Mmhm. There’s not a whole lot to do from this bed, and I was thinking about what you said. So...” She produces the parchment Harry had given her, and reads aloud. “Reason to be cheerful, number one: you are the only person I have seen throughout my entire time here who looks good in that horrible shade of green.”

Harry laughs and glances down at his bright, lime-coloured robes. “Really? And that’s a cause for celebration, is it?”

Romilda shrugs and tucks the list back under her pillow. “Well, you’re smiling now, at least.”

And he is, he can’t argue with that. “What about the rest?”

“I’m not going to give them to you all at once. I’ll wait until you’re grumpy again.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow and holds in his automatic protest that he doesn’t get grumpy. Watching her energy levels flicker, he hastens to ask if it’s OK to take Clive to the Manor again sometime before he loses her again.

“Are you kidding? All I’ve heard about since yesterday is about ‘the big house’, the naughty bird, ‘Mrs Mafloy’ and something or someone called ‘Zoos’.” Romilda closes her eyes and Harry flicks a glance at Clive, sitting silently in the chair. “I asked him if Zoos was a dog, and he was very firm that he wasn’t.”

Amused, Harry explains and she’s smiling faintly as she loses consciousness.

“I’ll see you in a little while,” he says, and Clive nods solemnly, climbing up onto the bed next to his mum.

As he completes his checks and heads back out into the corridor, Harry feels lighter than he has all day.

“Did you know I look good in green?” he asks Cecile, approaching her with hands shoved in his robe pockets.

“Some days it’s all I can think about,” she sighs, her amused expression shifting into one of irritation as a harassed-looking nurse prods her down to one end of the nurses’ station and out of the way. She stands there, muttering to herself, absorbed in some repetitive task.

Harry steps closer and grins, finally seeing what she’s doing. Methodically, she strips the offending article out of the last three Daily Prophets on her stack and then flicks her wand and mumbles a complicated charm to send them flying, presumably back to the waiting rooms they came from. The action is smooth and suspiciously practised.

“Hey, do you—”

“When I have time, yes.” Cecile squishes the removed pages into a haphazard ball and throws it to Harry, who catches it reflexively against his chest. “Don’t mention it.”

Harry wouldn’t dream of it. As she allows him a ghost of a smirk and disappears into the nearest ward, he squashes the smudgy black and white crumple of lies until it’s almost nothing.

Slytherins are useful things to have around.

**~*~**

By Friday, Clive has visited Malfoy Manor three times more, and has taken to staring down at Evil Peacock from the safety of Harry’s arms with an imperious expression that he can only have learned from his unexpected babysitter, Narcissa.

For Harry’s part, he’s almost unconsciously instilling a healthy respect for tradition in his little charge, and he and Clive have found that yelling: “Naughty bird!” as one irks Evil Peacock something fierce. Harry hasn’t been bitten since Monday, which is a new record.

Though he doesn’t forget about his mother completely, the visits seem to act as an effective distraction for Clive and he seems perfectly content to pet Zeus, sit in Narcissa’s sun-room or follow her around the Manor, looking at the portraits and hiding from Flimby. Fyz, Ginny, and Scary Craft Lady are each intrigued and drawn to the little boy in their own ways, but it’s Narcissa that Clive clings to, and he stares up at the Malfoy matriarch as though she’s the Queen of all creation.

Today, Harry’s earlier than usual, and it’s Draco that’s waiting at the front of the house for them. He’s leaning, as is his habit, against the stone pillar with irritating elegance, head tipped back as he looks at the grey sky. Harry’s heart lifts at the sight of him, and Clive automatically twists around to see what he’s grinning at.

“Drake,” he says, and Harry smirks.

“She’s in a fire-call with Madam Malkin,” Draco says, pulling a face. “I find it’s best not to ask.”

“I won’t, then.” Harry sets Clive down and watches him step cautiously into the entrance hall, scanning for Zeus. “You look really good,” he whispers, leaning in to slide his hand against Draco’s cold cheek and draw him into a slow, soft kiss that they both draw back from before they’re ready.

“Do I?” Draco stares at him, one hand still grasping the hem of Harry’s sweater.

Harry nods. He does, especially now: pupils dilated, skin glowing, hair slightly dishevelled as though he’s been thinking hard, which he no doubt has.

“Still yes,” Draco mumbles, fighting a smile, and it’s not a question.

“Of course still yes, idiot,” Harry says. He brushes another kiss against the corner of that smile and suddenly doesn’t feel the chill in the air at all.

“Staying for a while?”

“Half an hour or so,” Harry says, composing himself with some effort and dragging Draco inside the house after Clive.

Flimby is summoned, and the three of them squash onto a soft, cream-coloured sofa in the sun-room to drink tea and juice, and wait for Narcissa to finish her argument and join them.

Draco’s expression when Clive escapes from Harry and scrambles into his lap is a sight to behold. The child doesn’t seem to stand on ceremony, and Harry suspects that the only reason Draco has escaped this close-up scrutiny so far is because he rarely sits still for long enough during the course of his work for anyone to sit on his lap.

At first, he barely seems to be breathing as Clive’s round blue eyes sweep his face and clothing with careful absorption. Harry finds himself wondering if Draco has ever been this close to a child in his entire adult life; either way, he looks terrified, eyes flickering and lips pressed thin.

Biting his lip with empathy and amusement, Harry allows the arm he has draped along the back of the sofa to shift until his fingertips brush the back of Draco’s neck in a reassuring caress.

“Oh,” Clive says softly, surprised. Small, curious fingers trace the mark on Draco’s arm. “What’s it for?”

Grey eyes drop to follow the movement, and Draco clears his throat, eyebrows drawn down. Slowly, he looks up and meets Clive’s inquisitive gaze, apparently searching for the right words.

Harry exhales carefully and slides his fingertips into Draco’s hair discreetly. “It’s a scar,” he explains, noting Draco’s relief as the blue eyes flit straight to him. “Like this one, see?”

Under Clive’s watchful gaze, Harry lifts his messy fringe and exposes the faded jagged scar on his forehead. He nods slowly and seems satisfied with the explanation, until: “Where did you get it?”

Harry and Draco exchange split-second glances. “In a war,” Harry says simply.

“Mummy says wars are bad.” Clive frowns, still hanging onto Draco’s arm. “I fell down in the park,” he adds, holding out his palm for their perusal. Harry admires the faint silvery line crossing Clive’s pale skin and nudges Draco with his knee until he nods his approval, too, still looking vaguely startled.

“Your mum’s right,” Draco adds after a moment, then falls silent, expression deeply pensive.

Clive shifts on his lap so that he can look out of the window at the peacocks on the lawn, and Harry takes the opportunity to brush blond strands behind Draco’s ear and encourage eye contact.

“Amazing, isn’t it,” Draco whispers, leaning into the touch for a moment and then resting his head against the back of the sofa, “I’m holding a person who has never lived through a war. Who’s never been alive while the Dark Lord has been alive.”

“Yes,” Harry whispers back. “Why are we whispering?”

“Mostly,” whispers Draco, leaning close, “so that he doesn’t hear me and ask who the Dark Lord is.”

“Good point.”

“I thought so.”

“I’m beginning to think that Madam Malkin has no need for my custom,” Narcissa says, looming into view around the edge of the sofa. “She behaves as though it’s impossible to accommodate the simplest of requests.”

She lifts an eyebrow, noting Harry and Draco’s proximity on the sofa and the hand still threaded into her son’s hair. Harry withdraws his hand but doesn’t move away, and Draco mirrors his mother’s expression, as though to express his disbelief that her request to poor Madam Malkin is anything but simple.

Clive jumps down and runs to her immediately, laughing as Zeus emerges from behind her robes and licks his face. There’s a little bit of Harry, a bit that he wouldn’t admit to out loud, that feels a little put out to have been so quickly usurped as Zeus’ favourite person. He thinks he knows how Narcissa felt now.

“Haven’t you work to do, Draco?” she asks, turning as the odd little procession is halfway out into the corridor. “That lunatic asylum won’t open itself now, will it?”

“It certainly will not, Mother,” Draco sighs and turns back to Harry, grinning. “She thinks she’s funny. That’s the worrying part.”

Harry smiles and slides down in his seat, letting his head rest on Draco’s shoulder, and the midday sun attempts to punch through the grey clouds, scattering weak white light across his face. He thinks he’s having another one of those little moments when he realises that his life is, in fact, beyond surreal. Closing his eyes, he mentally records it for posterity.

“Left bloody Retrievo-Box at work,” he mumbles to himself.

“What do you need it for?”

“To remind myself that life is fucking weird,” Harry sighs.

Draco snorts, amused. “I don’t think you’ll need it for that. You’ll remember.”

“There is that.”

Harry stretches his legs out in front of him and sinks back into the sofa, absorbing the silence and the soft sunlight on his face before he has to return to the hospital for the afternoon.

Or at least, he does, until: “You know this scar?”

“What about it?” Harry doesn’t open his eyes, but his heart rate accelerates. Something in Draco’s tone tells him that he needs to add Ginny to his slow-and-painful-death list.

“Is it true?”

Harry opens his eyes reluctantly and turns his head to find himself gazing into silver-grey ones from just inches away. To his distress, he can’t read Draco’s expression at all and hot panic speeds his words.

“It’s not weird or anything, I just—oh, fuck. I’m going to kill Ginny. And Hermione. And George...”

The hard kiss silences him effectively but he’s still confused. Draco glances down at the black lines on his skin and then back up at Harry with a small, intriguing smile.

“No, you’re not. We’re going to go upstairs and you’re going to use the last fifteen minutes of your lunch break to show me exactly how weird it is.”

Harry blinks. Catches the flare of aroused curiosity in Draco’s eyes. Exhales messily, flooded with relief and warm, prickling interest.

“That’s a much better idea.”

**~*~**

Harry’s earlier shift means that he makes it back to Grimmauld Place first that day; Draco, who had planned to spend the afternoon making a dent in the bewildering array of complex wards required for the East Wing, won’t be home for ages. He pauses, robes halfway over his head, as the thought echoes inside his head, and he wonders just when he started thinking of his place as Draco’s home. He doubts that Draco does, even though he’s here most nights.

“Better not say that out loud,” he mumbles to himself, pulling his robes the rest of the way off and throwing them into the washing basket, which is full almost to overflowing.

Reluctantly, Harry picks up the basket and drags it upstairs, forcing himself to use this little bit of time to address his neglected domestic chores. The temptation to use Cleaning Spells for everything is huge, especially as he regards his clothing-strewn bedroom floor, but he knows it’s not the same, and the image of Molly Weasley’s disapproving pout quickly kills any remaining urge to be lazy.

He sighs, tucks the basket under his arm and works his way around the room, flinging things into the basket and humming absently under his breath, the song about a dragon that Clive was singing earlier.

“Fucking black boxers everywhere,” he mutters, interrupting himself. He shakes his head as he picks up three more pairs and tosses them into the basket, and then stops.

The fabric is slightly different, and... some of these aren’t his. Harry stares down into his basket and lifts an eyebrow, torn between indignation that he’s apparently doing Draco’s laundry, and amusement that Draco, in order to achieve this, must be leaving the house wearing either Harry’s underwear, or no underwear at all. There’s a thought. Amusement quickly wins out, and Harry smirks to himself.

He resumes his absent humming and picks up everything until he can see his bedroom floor once more; it’s been a while, too. The last item he hooks a finger into, down by the side of the bed, is a pair of very high quality black trousers. Draco’s trousers, no less, and now he’s confused. There’s no way he’s been wearing Harry’s pants—he doesn’t have that many pairs and a quick check reveals they’re all accounted for—and Harry likes to think he’d notice if Draco was leaving the house without any trousers on at all.

Frowning, Harry sets the basket down on the bed and wanders into his bathroom, unsure quite what he’s looking for until he finds it.

He runs thoughtful fingers along the one white towel amongst all of his green ones, not one bit surprised that it’s much softer to the touch than all of his green ones, too. Stepping closer to the shower, he picks up the bottle of clear, citrus-scented shampoo that he definitely didn’t buy. There are two toothbrushes in the glass at the side of his sink, and he has no idea how he’s never noticed that before, because he’s watched Draco brush his teeth more times than he can count.

Harry leaves everything where it is and returns to the bedroom, a strange smile stealing across his face. There’s a leather-bound notebook on his bedside table, with a yellow post-it note stuck to it, reading: ‘Call Meph re. Chelsea flat. What is ‘all mod cons’? Ask HG.’

The smile stretches into a grin, and Harry rubs his eyes with the flat of his hand, wondering how long Draco has been leaving his stuff all over the place without him noticing. When he thinks about it, it’s a typically Draco expression of commitment; he’s silently incorporating himself into Harry’s house, and he wonders if Draco half-expects to get called out on it.

Harry smirks, picking up the washing basket again and stomping down the stairs. If that’s the case, then Draco will be waiting a long time. Adding his own improvised words to the ones he can remember, Harry resumes the dragon song as he washes Draco’s things along with his own and then clears out a drawer in the bedroom to put them in.

“A drawer,” he tells his cupboard as he makes tea, noting the sugar jar he keeps filled even though he doesn’t use it himself. “Truly, I am a grown-up.”

The creak of the cupboard door is slow and almost sarcastic, and Harry withdraws his hand from the little bit of silver tinsel he’d decided to give in and remove at long last, changing his mind.

“Suit yourself.” He takes his tea into the living room. “And it takes one to know one,” he adds from the doorway.

Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps Draco does feel at home here after all. Sipping his tea and sprawling out untidily across the sofa, Harry wonders if he isn’t supposed to feel scared and uncomfortable and stifled by that thought. After all, he remembers very clearly the months before Ron and Hermione first moved in together. He remembers Hermione’s exasperation and Ron’s disturbed mumblings about commitment and space and ‘Isn’t this all a bit soon?’

They’re fine now, of course, but the more Harry thinks about it, the more he’s certain that some sort of panicking is indicated in a situation like this. If there’s even a situation. And even if there is, he can’t seem to muster any amount of dread or alarm; perhaps there’s something wrong with him.

Really, he muses, kicking off his shoes and dangling his legs over the arm of the sofa, Draco practically lives here anyway; now that he’s integrated himself into what he still refers to as ‘Gryffindor Polyjuice Outings’ he’s here Friday nights, too, and Harry can’t remember the last time they spent a night apart.

“And that’s bad?” he wonders aloud, frowning at the ceiling. It doesn’t feel bad; it feels warm. Good.

“I’m sure it’s very, very bad, whatever it is,” Draco offers, stepping out of the fireplace and leaning over the back of the sofa. He flashes a bright smile and rests his hands on the back cushions, waiting.

Harry gazes up at him from flat on his back and smiles lazily. He was right, it’s warm. Warm, and a bit achy and fluttery, but there’s no need to panic. “I don’t know, I think maybe it’s not bad at all.”

Draco lifts an amused eyebrow. “Well, while it’s good to see that you can have existential debates with an empty room, it’s almost seven and as you can see, I am dressed and ready...” He indicates his smart outfit and dangles a single dark hair in Harry’s face. “...and you are flat on your back and ready for nothing.”

“I’m always ready,” Harry protests, indignant. “And anyway, there are plenty of things I can do flat on my back.”

Draco’s smirk is instantly rewarding, and he leans right down until his mouth is a whisper away from Harry’s, bringing with him the scent of leather and lemons and mints. “I don’t doubt it.”

Reaching up to grab him by his collar and hold him in place, Harry battles against the sudden heat rippling through him at the suggestion and the proximity. There are plenty of things he’d like to do right now but on balance, he doesn’t much fancy Hermione’s wrath if they’re late. Awarding himself extra points for self control, he kisses Draco firmly but briefly and drags himself off the sofa.

“We should look into that later,” he calls over his shoulder as he climbs the stairs.

“Sounds like a plan.”

**~*~**

Harry’s grudging self-control allows them to reach the restaurant just in time to avoid the rough edge of Hermione’s tongue. Both she and Ron are in good spirits, Harry is relaxed and Draco is in heated-debate mode, so it’s no surprise that it’s after midnight by the time they return to Grimmauld Place.

Blinking sleepily in the brightly-lit bathroom, Harry rests his chin on Draco’s bare shoulder and holds his hand out for the toothpaste tube that he knows will be passed to him; within seconds he’s closing his fingers around smooth, squeezy plastic and thrusting bristles into his mouth, cleansing away the taste of garlic and Firewhisky.

He’s not messily drunk but tired and pleasantly buzzed, choosing to lean on Draco, who’s supporting himself with one hand wrapped around the edge of the sink unit. The smooth, bare skin of Draco’s back feels good against his chest and Harry pauses in his brushing to gaze at their reflections in the mirror, deciding hazily that they look pretty good, too, pressed tightly together, stripped down to underwear, all lazy movements and absent-minded caresses.

Dark against light... beautiful. Harry drags the brush over his tongue and flattens his hand over Draco’s belly, admiring in the mirror the difference in their skin tones. His little finger brushes the familiar black waistband and something pleasant washes around in his belly.

“I put your things in the third drawer down,” Harry says lightly. Casually, he hopes.

Grey eyes meet his in the glass and hold, widening when Harry’s fingertip dips below the waistband and comprehension dawns. For a second or two, Draco’s brushing hand stills and he doesn’t appear to breathe. Almost amused at his silent panic, Harry presses himself even closer and drops a messy kiss to his shoulder.

Draco blinks, nods just once and resumes his brushing. “That’s a good drawer position,” he says after a minute or two, eyes full of studied contemplation. “Accessible.”

Harry nods gravely and slides his whole hand into Draco’s boxers, searching out warm, quiescent flesh that eagerly begins to fill and harden at his touch. “I thought so, too,” he mumbles, mouth still full of toothbrush.

Inhaling sharply, Draco leans back against Harry and levels an amused stare at him via the mirror. “Good grief, how fucking domestic is this?” he observes.

Uncertain, Harry concentrates very hard on his brushing and his stroking. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Did I say it was?”

“I can’t always tell with you,” Harry mutters, head drifting a bit now, and Draco just laughs, spitting toothpaste into the sink and reaching up to yank Harry’s brush from his mouth.

“Spit,” he instructs, and Harry does, startled.

Then, at Draco’s small smile, he tightens his grip on the rapidly swelling cock in his hand, licks a fleck of minty paste from the corner of his mouth and notes Draco’s soft groan with satisfaction. At the press of Harry’s own growing erection against his arse, Draco turns his head, brushing their noses together and Harry lifts his free hand to pull him into a wet, minty, foamy kiss.

The angle is awkward but Harry doesn’t care; he wraps strands of pale hair around his fingers and explores the cold, clean mouth until a firm hand curls around the back of his neck and a languid but insistent tongue chases his back into his mouth. Draco’s breathing is shaky against his, catching with each long, unhurried stroke of Harry’s hand and Harry is seized almost violently by the desire to make him feel good.

It’s not that he doesn’t always want that, but there’s something unexpectedly vulnerable about Draco tonight; he doesn’t know if it’s the way he’s just hanging onto the sink and pushing shamelessly into Harry’s touch, or the way he’s twisting around and allowing, matching, wanting those slow, uninhibited kisses, or his indirect acceptance over the drawer issue, but it’s surprising and hopelessly erotic.

Harry is swept along in it, feeling suddenly more confident than he’s ever felt about sex and planning to take every advantage of that fact. Pulling back from the kiss, Harry kisses Draco’s neck and hooks his fingers under the black fabric, sliding the boxers down his hips, thighs, and to the floor, opening his eyes and looking at them both in the mirror.

“Oh,” he whispers, startled by the hard rush of desire and the ache of warmth in his chest as he takes in the matching ruffled hair, flushed skin, kiss-grazed lips... Draco’s head tipped back and his closed eyes, until Harry circles his thumb over the sticky tip of his cock and they snap open, grey irises impossibly dark and fastening on hungry green ones in their reflection.

“What happened to you being flat on your back?” Draco demands breathlessly.

“I don’t know... do you want me to stop?”

Draco glances down, watching his erection sliding in and out of Harry’s fist, and back up again, a tiny smirk curving his lips. “No.”

“As I suspected,” Harry mumbles against his neck. “I think you should just... stay right there.”

“Might do,” Draco says, flicking an eyebrow with what looks like some effort and Harry grins against his neck and falls in love with him just a little bit more.

He trails slow, warm kisses across the pale shoulderblades and down Draco’s spine, flicking out his tongue to taste the skin, following the wet trail with the palm of his free hand and dropping to the cold bathroom floor with his nose pressed into the small of Draco’s back.

He’s not sure what makes him do it in the first place, but when Harry drags an experimental tongue lower and along the crack of his arse, the surprised “Fuck,” from above and the jump of Draco’s cock under his fingers sends a unique new thrill through him.

“Oh, I see,” he whispers, mostly to himself as he reluctantly releases Draco’s cock and grips the firm, pale flesh in front of him with both hands, the soft sound of protest quickly turning into something that sounds a lot like, “Ohfuckinggodyesdon’tstop,” as he licks over the exposed puckered flesh with the flat of his tongue.

Encouraged, Harry spreads him wider and digs nails into Draco’s skin, testing out slow, broad swipes, teasing, darting licks, and sealing his mouth over the twitching, saliva-slick hole and sucking gently until he wrenches an almost-sob from Draco.

It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s never done this before in his life; something about the soft cries and muttered strings of curses tell him he’s doing something right. The sounds have a more insistent edge to them than usual, flooding Harry’s overwhelmed senses and making him leak needily against his own stomach and straining underwear.

Harry presses the tip of his tongue inside, caught up in the dirty, shocking intimacy of the action and Draco’s cracked, “Please,” almost undoes him completely. He needs to be touched so much it almost hurts but needs more of this, more of Draco unravelled and pushing back against his tongue as he acquiesces and stabs in and out of him, over and over, feeling the tight channel start to give in to him. Tasting only vaguely over the tingle of mint, something warm and arousing that he wants more of.

More of any of it, really, anything Draco wants to give him. Pulling back, he watches the pale hands wrapped tightly around the edge of the sink, the tight shoulders and head bent forward, breathing laboured, before gazing, drunk with need, at his work; spit-shiny, open and ready. Harry licks his lips and slides his fingers between parted cheeks.

“Yes,” Draco hisses. “Do something.”

Smiling faintly, aware even through the thick haze of wanting that he’s unlikely to get another ‘please’, Harry dips his head and pushes fingers inside that tight heat alongside his tongue, revelling in Draco’s moan and the clatter as he knocks the toothbrush glass into the sink.

His legs are shaky as he gets to his feet, kicking off his boxers and groaning as he strokes his aching cock with a sticky-slippery hand. He reaches to enclose Draco’s in his other hand and once again his eyes fly open at the touch; he looks more out of it than Harry has ever seen him and it’s beautiful. Not for a second does he expect Draco to kiss him after... that, but he does, fingers grasping his hair and tangling their tongues together frantically, hot, filthy, close.

Breathless, Harry presses tighter against his back and glances once more into the mirror.

“Is bathroom sex really domestic, d’you think, or really... un-domestic?” he mumbles, thinking out loud.

“I don’t know.” Draco’s mouth twitches at the corners and he drops his head back against Harry’s shoulder, closing his eyes as an uncontrollable, inappropriate grin rips across his face and his sudden laughter echoes off the tiles. “I really don’t know.”

Catching the bubble of laughter in his chest, Harry snorts into Draco’s hair, not forgetting for a second the need snapping both of their bodies tight, but just for a second, feeling so comfortably amused that his heart might burst.

“Doesn’t matter,” he whispers, still grinning as Draco catches his eyes in the mirror, bites his lip and draws a knee up onto the sink, leaning, inviting, stealing Harry’s breath.

Harry leans with him, guiding himself inside and smothering his low whimper of pleasure and relief in sweat-damp blond hair. Draco’s nod of encouragement comes quickly, neither of them wanting to wait, and he takes over lazily stroking his own cock; Harry braces both hands against the cool sink unit, mindlessly gripping and tangling with the fingers that reach for his.

He can’t take his eyes away from their reflection in the mirror as they move together, and any embarrassment he thinks he should feel from looking at himself in this messy, needy, exposed state has evaporated because it isn’t him, it’s them, and it’s fucking fantastic.

“You and me, isn’t it?” he murmurs against hot, salty skin. “Yes.”

Draco smiles, pushing back and exhaling roughly with every stroke inside him, flicking his tongue over dry lips as if he knows Harry is following it with his eyes. Slowly, he pulls his fingers away from Harry’s and reaches back to wrap his arm around Harry’s neck at an uncomfortable angle that can only be deliberate; grey eyes warm in the mirror and Harry’s heart pounds gracelessly as he strokes into Draco harder, driving into that tight heat and pressing his mouth against the proffered marked skin. Knowing.

“Deviant,” Draco whispers, letting his head fall back again, breath catching, chest and face and cock flushed; Harry knows he’s close; they both are.

“Not ’til... not ’til I met you, I wasn’t,” he manages, skin hot and sweat-slick where they slide together.

“No ownership,” Draco pants, fingers grasping at Harry’s hair. “None... you’re just... displacing... you... fuck, so close.”

Swaying on the edge of his own release, Harry stares ahead hungrily, watching Draco’s hand and his mouth and the strands of hair falling over closed eyes.

“You look beautiful when you come,” Harry whispers against his ear, needing Draco to see what he sees. “Look. Just look.”

With a broken sigh, intense, clouded eyes open and they both stare into the glass as Harry pushes hard, slow, once, twice, three times more and Draco gasps and shudders helplessly, biting his bottom lip and coming in long white strands against the mirror. Barely hanging on, Harry loses it immediately at the sight and empties himself inside Draco with a wave of pleasure/relief so powerful he can’t keep his eyes open.

Very still, breathing hard, they come down together; Harry slides an arm around Draco’s waist and feels every muscle in his body begin to relax.

“Good heavens, I’ve never seen anything like it,” the startled voice of the mirror throws into the silence, making them both look up, startled. “I hope you’re going to clean that up.”

Draco snorts and slides his foot back down to the floor, wincing as they separate. Harry watches as he lifts an eyebrow and deliberately smears his sticky hand across the glass. The mirror shrieks.

Seemingly satisfied, Draco runs his hand under the tap and shakes it off, turning a speculative smile on Harry before kissing him quickly, intensely, and disappearing into the bedroom.

Harry wavers on shaky legs, looking into the sink at the spilled toothbrushes and the one white towel and Draco’s fancy shampoo, then up at himself one more time. The smile that is reflected back to him is depraved, satisfied and incredibly content, and only widens helplessly when he rakes his fingers through hair that Draco has yanked all over the place.

“If you don’t hurry up, I’ll fall asleep all over the middle of the bed on purpose, and there will be no room for you at all,” Draco calls from the bedroom.

I don’t want to fall asleep without you,’ Harry translates silently, out loud replying: “You wouldn’t dare.”

A deep sigh issues from the bedroom, and then silence. Harry turns and reaches out to dispel the bathroom lights.

“Harry.”

“Mm?”

“Come to bed.”

**~*~**

Tap tap tap.

Harry frowns and turns over another page of ‘Diagnosing the Undiagnosable: a Healer’s Guide’ which is propped up on his chest as he lies on the sofa, back supported by a pile of green cushions and feet in Draco’s lap.

He doesn’t usually relish sacrificing his Saturday supplements for dry Healing texts but he’s determined to give Romilda one more shot before starting his new rotation on Monday and effectively leaving her at Tremellen’s mercy.

Tap tap tap tap tap.

Pointedly pretending he can’t hear Draco’s impatient pen-tapping, Harry keeps his place on the page with one finger and trails the fingertips of the other hand in the swirling blue light of the Retrievo-Box that sits on the edge of the sofa cushion next to him.

Patient says she’s feeling brittle... odd word, that. Brittle. Tired, and... brittle... worn, fragile?” his own voice muses softly from the box, and the blue light glows brightly.

Harry rubs his eyes and sighs heavily, turning over another page. Draco rubs a hand over his bare ankle, which feels good, but then continues to tap the chewed-up red pen against the newspaper in his hand, a sure sign that he’s bored, or can’t finish the crossword, or both. That he wants attention, that’s for certain.

“Your turn to make tea,” Harry says absently, stretching his legs out over Draco’s lap and encouraging the caress but not looking away from his book.

“I can’t believe you’re studying on a Saturday.”

Harry looks up over the top of the pages at last. “I’m not studying, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with my patient and it’s driving me mad.”

“Alright. Let me help.”

The pale eyes are surprisingly sincere and Harry smiles.

“But you’re not a Healer, Draco,” slips out of his mouth before he can stop to realise exactly how it sounds; the second the words are out, Harry wants to pull the heavy book over his face and disappear.

Draco scowls, dropping the newspaper on top of Harry’s feet and crossing his arms. “Yes, thank you. No need to slap me in the face with my shortcomings.”

“Sorry, I didn’t—”

“Think? Evidently.”

Harry sighs and lets the book fall splayed open across his chest; he pushes himself up on his elbows with some difficulty and nudges Draco with his knee. “It’s not a shortcoming, alright? It’s a statement of fact. You are not a Healer. I am not an Auror. I’m not a group leader or an entrepreneur or a potion-inventor either, but that’s just how things are.”

“Hmm.” Draco, slightly mollified, resumes his pen-tapping. “I could have been a Healer.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Harry says, and he half-believes it. “Still want to help me? Patient’s complaining of a—”

“I was listening before, you know,” Draco sighs impatiently. “Maybe she’s just getting old. How do you spell the name of the Muggle President’s wife?” he tacks on, as if Harry somehow won’t notice he’s asking for help.

“L-A-U-R-A?” Harry offers distractedly, something nagging at the back of his head.

“No, not her. The English one.”

“Prime Minister, you mean,” Harry corrects. “C-H-E-R-I-E.”

“That’s it.” Draco inks in the letters and smiles with satisfaction.

Harry dips a finger into the blue light again. ‘Brittle. Tired. Worn out.’ “What did you say?”

Draco frowns and looks up from the paper. “I said ‘that’s it’.”

“No, before that. You were talking about my patient and you said... maybe she’s getting old?”

“So?”

“Draco, she’s twenty-two, remember, she...” Horrible inspiration hits Harry full force and he closes his eyes briefly. Idiot. Fucking idiot. “She’s getting old. She’s fucking well getting old!”

Lowering the newspaper, Draco sighs, eyebrows drawn down. “What?”

He sits up hurriedly, knocking everything to the floor and grabbing onto the back of the sofa for support. “I think... I think it’s some kind of Ageing Spell. I think she’s ageing, or at least her vital systems are, her magical energy and her organs.”

“Wouldn’t that have shown up on your tests?”

“No.” Harry rubs at his face, exhilarated and horrified all at once. “No, not any of the tests we’re using... it’s obviously been modified somehow, anyway, but it’s not strictly Dark magic so it wouldn’t show up on any of their tests, either.”

Draco lifts a disbelieving eyebrow. “Somebody wanted to rapidly age your patient from the inside?”

Harry screws up his nose in disgust, suppressing a shiver. “Apparently. That’s... sick.” It is, and Harry’s money’s on the psychotic ex-boyfriend, wherever he is, but that’s not his concern, he supposes. “Well, possibly,” he adds, suddenly plagued with doubt. “Can’t know until I test, and can’t find a counter-spell or treatment until I know.”

He chews on a thumbnail and looks at Draco, waiting for a response. He’s only half-dressed right now but is already calculating how long it’ll take to make it to Gen One and find someone to distract Clive for a bit and run some new tests and...

“Go,” Draco says, pulling Harry’s hand away from his mouth and quirking a dry smile. “If I can’t do the Quibbler one without your help then we have a real problem.”

Harry can’t help the smile in spite of his restless anxiety. “Be sure to owl me if that happens,” he says, kisses the corner of Draco’s mouth and jumps to his feet.

“I’d offer to go with you,” Draco offers, settling into the spot against the pile of cushions that Harry has warmed, “but I can’t vouch for what might happen to Augustus Tremellen if I see him.”

Watching him get comfortable soothes Harry, and by the time he’s dressed and ready to Disapparate, he feels almost calm.

**~*~**

Five hours later, there’s not one shred of him that feels anything approaching calm.

It starts out well enough; he manages to locate a nice nurse that Clive knows and likes to keep him occupied while Harry runs a complex combination of new tests, at some points having to read the incantations straight out of the back of ‘Diagnosing the Undiagnosable’ and hoping for the best.

Eventually, he locates a fine, tightly meshed mix of seemingly innocuous charms wrapped around the magical core, which together seem to be creating what Harry can only describe as a rapid, inside-out Ageing Spell. Nothing whatsoever here that would jump out on standard diagnostic tests, or even not-quite-so-standard ones. This is deliberately nasty and determinedly almost traceless.

As he finally lifts a glowing yellow representation of the damage from Romilda’s unconscious body, Harry is trembling with concentration and sticky with exertion, but he’s done it. And without waking her, which is disturbing, now that he knows the reason for her constant exhaustion.

Still, he presses on, knowing it won’t do any good to force her awake at this point, and anyway, they’re both all-too-accustomed to tests and treatments being performed without her knowledge.

Book open on the end of the bed, wand gripped firmly, Harry painstakingly throws intricate counter-curse after counter-curse at the sleeping woman, lips moving continuously and eyes flitting between her face and the glowing, flickering tangle of yellow light hovering above her chest.

Nothing. Fucking. Works.

Swiping the sweaty hair out of his eyes and throwing his green robes on the chair at her bedside, Harry takes a deep breath and casts each one a second time, just in case. Halfway through this second run, the nurse who had taken Clive pops her head around the ward door and he spins around between casts, wild-eyed, aggravation evident in every line of his body, and shakes his head firmly. She holds up a hand and backs away, eyebrows in her hairline.

“Come on,” Harry mutters into the crackling air. “Come on, Romilda.” He grits his teeth. “Again.”

But the yellow web glows, undisturbed, and Harry has to admit defeat; aching and drained, he sinks into Clive’s chair, creasing his discarded robes into oblivion and caring even less than usual. He rakes tired fingers through his hair and gazes at the unlined, pale face on the pillow. Romilda is all sharp, dark eyebrows and strong chin and obvious youth. On the outside, at least.

Sighing, he drops his head into his hands.

Someone’s cast this to kill her, or at least hurt her badly. A non-Dark collection of spells used in a decidedly Dark way. Pensive, Harry looks through the gaps in his fingers at the white bedsheets and wonders.

She’s as stable as she can be for now, and one more day won’t make a difference. Healer Aquiline is a reasonable woman... at least, he hopes she is.

“She’ll know what to do, don’t worry,” Harry assures the sleeping woman and drags himself to his feet.

He walks out into the corridor with his creased robes dangling from his fist, looking for that nurse whose name he hasn’t a hope of remembering. Blond Nurse with Nose-ring.

On Monday he’s going to Dark Arts Reversals and, if he can help it, Romilda and Clive are coming with him.

**~*~**

“You are early, Healer Potter.” Aquiline sits on the edge of her office desk and gestures for Harry to take a seat.

He is, too, by a whole ten minutes. Having realised that he’s essentially beginning his Dark Arts rotation by asking Healer Aquiline for a favour, Harry has done his utmost to drag himself away from the warm, protesting body in his bed on time for once. He fiddles with the edge of his sleeve and glances around the large, book-lined office, and at the gruesome posters dotted around Aquiline’s sepia-coloured walls.

“Only a little bit,” he demurs, affecting nonchalance. “I honestly never thought I’d see this rotation so soon.”

Aquiline looks amused. “Why?”

Harry hesitates, but something about her expression demands an answer, and an honest one at that. “Because it’s the one everyone wants, and Healer Tremellen hates me?”

Aquiline’s sharp bark of laughter startles him. Her thin lips draw back to expose slightly pointed canines and the intelligent dark eyes gleam. She’s not a beautiful woman by any stretch of the imagination, but her features are striking and she nearly glows with natural authority. She is not, Harry suspects, someone to get on the wrong side of.

“Hate is a strong word, Healer Potter. I’d advise you not to take Augustus too personally. He did, after all, honour my request for you to be here now.”

Harry stares. “Your request? You asked for me?”

Aquiline merely lifts a dark eyebrow while Harry fidgets horribly in his seat, and her commanding stillness reminds him instantly of Draco’s composure in his therapy groups; he wishes he knew where they learned how to do that; Draco had been right when he’d observed that Harry was ‘all nervous energy, all the time’.

“I was impressed by your performance at Christmas,” she says simply, and Harry knows right away that he’ll be lucky to get any more explanation than that. He supposes he can deal with that; at least it puts an end to his speculation about Tremellen’s possible ulterior motives.

“Thank you.”

There’s another brief flash of those pointed teeth, and then: “We shall see if you’re still feeling grateful at the end of this rotation; Reversals is far from an easy ride.”

She and Harry exchange a long, significant glance, and he nods slowly. He doesn’t need to tell her that he’s had quite enough experience with the Dark Arts to figure that out for himself. After a moment, she makes to get to her feet and Harry opens his mouth hurriedly; if he’s going to ask, he needs to ask right now.

“Healer Aquiline, I was wondering...”

“Ask it, Healer Potter, I can only refuse,” she points out in the space his hesitation creates.

“OK. I have an unusual case I’d like to move to your department...” he begins.

She settles back on the heavy ebony desk and regards him, unblinking, as he outlines everything he’s discovered about Romilda’s illness and everything he has tried so far, unsuccessfully, to halt its progress. He hands her a detailed list he’s compiled and she glances at it briefly.

“...so, it’s not strictly Dark magic, but I thought the best chance for her, for both of them, was, well, with you. If it’s not too presumptuous... Healer Aquiline,” he adds, and holds his breath expectantly.

The Department Head remains silent for so long that Harry has to look away from her, focusing instead on the stacks of parchments on the desk behind her, the strange glowing instruments behind glass cases and the warm, musty smell in the air.

“Yes, Healer Potter,” she says eventually. Harry snaps his eyes back to her. “I think it’s a good call. She will remain your patient, your responsibility, but I am prepared to offer consultation and, of course, we have resources here that Gen One can only dream about.”

She smirks, and Harry notes, not for the first time, the sense of ‘my ward’s better than your ward’ that seems to exist even amongst Department Heads.

“Thank you.”

“The Dark Arts are as much about intention as they are about the words used,” she continues. “In my opinion, at least. It’s a bit of a contentious issue, but I’ve never shied away from being a little bit controversial where necessary.”

“I don’t think I could have put it any better,” Harry says honestly, and his damaged professional confidence begins, at last, to seep warmly back into his veins.

“Then we understand each other.” Aquiline rises and turns away, sweeping folders and parchments into her arms. “I have a very busy schedule, you need to know that; I cannot follow you everywhere, but the nurses and other Healers will help you, and you will come here first thing every morning, and you will come for me if you need me,” she instructs, turning once more to face him, and her tone brooks no argument.

“Will do, Healer Aquiline,” Harry says quickly and she makes a small sound of satisfaction.

He hastens to follow her to the office door and out into the corridor. Once there, she Summons a stack of charts from somewhere behind Harry and thrusts them into his hands.

“And so we begin.” She takes one step backwards and pauses, brushing a strand of dark hair back into place. “Do you drink canteen coffee, Healer Potter?”

Puzzled, Harry grips the charts and shrugs. “Where necessary.”

Aquiline’s sudden smile softens her severe features. “You are in Reversals, now, Healer. It is no longer necessary. Be kind to Nurse Bates, and she will make sure you are never without a cup of fresh filter.”

At the sound of her name, a young nurse with purple streaks in her hair looks up and smiles at Harry; hurriedly, he smiles back, anxious to ingratiate himself with his new coffee-providing colleague.

When he looks back, Aquiline is gone, and he glances down at the charts in his hands.

“I’d start with him,” the nurse advises, pointing at one of the charts. “When he gets impatient, he spits.”

Harry stares at her. Apparently, she’s not joking. Perhaps he’ll see to this one before he moves Romilda...

“Milk and sugar?”

“Hm?”

“In your coffee. D’you take milk and sugar?”

Harry shakes his head slowly. He thinks he’s going to like it here.

**~*~**

It’s almost lunchtime by the time he gets to Romilda; Reversals is a chaotic, fast-paced department, and even with the help of two more experienced Healers and more nurses than he can remember, Harry can’t help but feel he’s been completely cast in at the deep end. He suspects that Aquiline knows exactly what she’s doing, but that knowledge doesn’t stop his head from spinning.

And now he has to tell Romilda exactly what’s going on. He sighs, hesitating outside her Gen One room, pressing at his eyes behind his glasses. Essentially, he’s telling her that he now knows what’s wrong but that he doesn’t yet know what to do about it, and he’s not relishing the prospect.

He summons his professional ‘trust me’ smile and strides into the room with more confidence than he feels. Romilda is awake, but now that he’s familiar with the nature of her illness, it’s all too easy to see the stiffness and weakness of a much older woman in her posture and tired eyes. He swallows dryly.

“Oh, no,” she offers, catching his eyes. “Serious face. Where were we up to?” Before he can stop her, she’s groping under her pillow and retrieving her crumpled list. She squints hard at the words and Harry half-wonders if she can’t see properly any more. “Reason to be cheerful, number nine, I think—”

“—Romilda...”

“...now, admittedly this is a bit of a variation on a theme, but still: You get to share a bed with Draco Malfoy.” She looks up, checking that Clive isn’t paying attention. “See, the funny thing is, it was always you at school, but Malfoy’s really grown into a quite a... what?”

Harry’s insides twist, knowing he has to ruin her good humour, and it’s clearly evident on his face.

“I did some more tests this weekend. A lot of tests. I found the cause of your symptoms...” Harry winces inwardly at the flicker of fear in his patient’s eyes, but forces himself to continue. “Multiple spells, almost traceless... I’m sorry we didn’t catch them earlier. Essentially, they... it’s a rapid internal ageing process, that’s why you’ve been feeling so drained and frail.”

“You can fix it, can’t you?” she says in a small voice, fingers wrapped tightly around the sheets. “You can stop it, if you know what it is?”

Harry’s stomach turns over. The urge to reassure is overwhelmingly strong but he fights it, knowing that a good Healer does not offer false promises. Knowing, but still.

His hesitation is too long, though, and he sees the exact moment that horror turns Romilda’s dark eyes glossy. A rustle from the corner tells Harry that Clive has at last taken interest in the conversation and his timing couldn’t be worse.

“I’m going to do my best,” he attempts. “There are still some options left.”

It’s not a ‘Yes, everything’s going to be OK’ though, and it’s not even a ‘Yes, it’ll probably be OK’, and she knows it. They have to find those options before her time literally runs out.

“We’re going to do everything we can, Romilda, now we know what this is, we can at least try to...”

Harry is cut off by the sudden, unexpected sound of distress torn from his patient’s throat as she brings her hands up to cover her face and turns onto her side with her back to him. She curls into herself protectively and soon all he can see is black hair and a lump under pristine white sheets.

“Mummy?” Clive attempts, scrambling down from his chair and patting the shape under the sheets.

“No,” she snaps from behind her hands. “No. Leave me.”

Clive returns to his chair and looks like he’s about to cry.

Harry goes to his side and stretches out an awkward hand, which Clive takes immediately. Taking a deep breath, he tries again to reach this once-sunny woman who now won’t even look at him.

“Come on, Romilda, don’t give up on me. I’ve arranged with Healer Aquiline to have you transferred to Dark Arts Reversals... she’s the best. We’ll figure something out,” he promises, abandoning his professional front for the need to comfort a patient—and a person—that he’s come to care for.

“What’s the matter with her?” Clive whispers, and Harry doesn’t have an answer for that.

Still, she doesn’t move. “Your son needs you,” Harry tries, desperate now, and there’s a tiny movement behind the curtain of hair. “And you know... I need someone to sort me out when I’m grumpy...”

A choked sound is the only response, but as Harry sighs heavily and moves to leave her be for the time being, one hand moves to curl around the piece of parchment and the same arm extends toward Clive, who scrambles onto the bed at the silent invitation and wraps little arms around his mum.

“I’ll see you both upstairs,” he offers into the silence and closes the door behind him.

Back on the second floor, Nurse Bates takes one look at his face and reaches for the coffee pot. Harry sips the fragrant liquid gratefully and leafs through the stack of folders she sends his way, acquainting himself with his next set of unfortunately afflicted patients.

“Gotta love Mondays,” the nurse says to no one in particular, and Harry offers her a small snort of agreement.

He wonders how work is going at the Manor and, as he does, finds himself gripped by an urge to see Draco so powerful that it leaves his heart raw. The thing is, he knows that soon he can escape for lunch with his friends, sit in the canteen and rant all he wants about his patients and his frustrations, but that’s no more than a temporary fix.

It’s almost frightening to have come to rely on one person as his sole source of true comfort, especially when that person is Draco Malfoy. Draco never says that everything’s OK; Draco never promises anything he shouldn’t. But... perhaps that’s the whole point. Draco’s offers of solace come in the form of fingers in hair and under strings, lips against flesh, and strange little practical gestures. In warm, steady grey eyes and skin that always smells amazing and soft little insults that aren’t really.

“Knut for ’em,” says the nurse, and Harry glances up, smile tugging at his lips.

“What?”

“For your thoughts. Must’ve been pretty interesting, what you were thinking about.” She smiles knowingly and looks down at her paperwork. “Or who you were thinking about.”

It’s impressive, Harry thinks. Draco doesn’t even have to be in the same building to embarrass him.

“It was,” he agrees, determinedly not blushing. “Very interesting.”

**~*~**

Harry has been home all of two and a half minutes when Draco announces his presence with a low-level muttering from the living room. It’s with a sense of foreboding that Harry walks out of the kitchen to greet him, and as he’d suspected, Draco looks thoroughly pissed off.

“Hi,” he attempts, actually surprised when Draco’s tightly curled fingers relax into his at the first attempt, and he allows Harry to pull him closer without protest. Perhaps it’s not too serious after all.

“Hi.” Draco scowls but allows himself to be kissed and melts just a fraction against Harry’s lips. “I’m going to have Marley’s bollocks when I see him, I swear.”

Harry pulls back in order to meet Draco’s eyes and heaves a long-suffering sigh. Bloody Marley again. “What does he want now?”

“He wants my admittedly not very expert opinion on rented accommodation in London. The sooner he gets his arse over here and just chooses somewhere, the better.”

Lifting an eyebrow to acknowledge this ongoing property drama between Draco and his Dublin-based friend, Harry can’t help asking the question that’s been rattling around in his head for some weeks now. “If he annoys you this much, why do you bother with him? He clearly drives you mad.”

Draco’s eyes glint with amusement. “You drive me mad, too, but I still bother with you, don’t I?”

“That’s not very nice, Draco,” Harry complains, torn between his instinctive smile and bristling at the implication that Draco places him in the same box as that self-centred Irish dilettante.

Draco drops heavily onto the sofa and Harry sits next to him. “The world isn’t very nice, is it?” Draco offers disconsolately after a moment, and Harry starts to suspect that he’s the one about to do the consoling here, but that’s fine, because...

...and that thought is dissolved as Draco shifts onto his back, resting his head on Harry’s thighs and crossing his arms defensively across his chest. Harry stares down at him, astonished by this fully-clothed request—no, demand—for comfort, but quickly gets with it and relaxes, threading careful fingers through Draco’s hair.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, really. Well, apart from this morning, when I ventured out for some supplies and spent ten minutes being forced to listen to the old bat in the Apothecary telling me that I should break up with you and set you free, because someone else deserves a shot at the Boy Who Lived. Of course, when I dared to disagree with her, she spent another ten minutes assuring me that very soon you’ll grow tired of this silliness and move onto... well, she said ‘greener pastures’ but I imagined she meant someone with more breasts and fewer skeletons in the closet.”

Harry sighs and tries to catch Draco’s gaze, but the grey eyes are fixed stubbornly upon the ceiling.

“I’m sorry, Draco,” he offers pointlessly. “You know it’s all bollocks, though, don’t you?”

“Yeah, so you should be,” Draco says, trying to smile. “And of course I do, but it doesn’t mean I particularly care to hear it when I’m just trying to buy potion ingredients.”

“I know,” Harry almost whispers, and Draco tips his head back, at last allowing eye contact.

“Let’s talk about something else. Tell me about Reversals. I think my mother missed Clive today, though she’d never admit it out loud,” Draco says.

Harry hesitates, looking down and anchoring himself in sincere grey eyes until he finds what he needs there to recount the events of his day. He tells Draco about Aquiline, about Nurse Bates and her coffee, and about all of his new patients. When he gets to the part about upsetting Romilda, Draco says nothing, but he closes his eyes when Harry’s fingers stiffen in his hair and turns his head to press parted lips against the inside of Harry’s wrist, and it’s enough.

Pacified, he Summons a footstool and gets as comfortable as he can without dislodging Draco; Harry can hardly believe he’s still lying there, even if he does still have his eyes closed.

“She thinks you’re hot, for what it’s worth,” Harry offers, and Draco’s lips curve into a small smile.

“That so?” He stretches long arms above his head and rearranges himself with one arm dangling over the edge of the sofa and one draped over his own stomach. “Can’t say I blame her.”

Harry snorts softly, catching hold of the levity and holding on. “Mm. It was all about me at school, you know. I was there first.”

“You know, I’m starting to think that you and Mephisto will get on very well,” Draco muses, still not opening his eyes. “He’s another supposedly gay man who gets far too much enjoyment out of women fawning all over him.”

Offended, Harry flicks him under the chin, but doesn’t stop sifting his fingers through the soft, blond hair. “I’m not going to dignify that with a response.”

“Fine. Anyway, speaking of which, you still need to help me with this name thing.”

Harry groans and struggles to his feet and into the kitchen, actually opting to displace Draco from his lap rather than suffer through this circuitous discussion even one more time; it’s not that he doesn’t want to help Draco find a name for his project, but having one’s suggestions continuously ridiculed does tend to erode the creative spirit. Slowly, he makes tea and pulls faces at the tinsel-decked cupboard and hopes that Draco will have forgotten about it by the time he returns, cups in hands.

It was never going to be very likely, he knows that. Harry peers through the steam and over the back of the sofa into a face that is all studied innocence. Draco is propped up on his elbows, or at least he is until Harry sits down carefully, and then he resumes his previous position without a word.

“You need to help me,” Draco says, as though there has been no break in the conversation. He takes a cup from Harry at an awkward angle. “Because, if you don’t, Marley will turn up tomorrow with a list of truly abhorrent suggestions and I will end up using one of them out of desperation.”

Harry rolls his eyes and gulps at his hot tea, recognising the manipulation and the unsaid ‘Is that what you WANT?’ that dangles in the air.

“I still think you should call it Malfoy Manor Chem Dep.”

“Yes, well. I still think you need your head examining.”

Harry just about resists the urge to balance his cup on top of Draco’s head. “The Manor?” he tries wearily.

“I think we’ve had that one before,” Draco points out, supporting his tea cup on his chest and turning unconsciously into the absent-minded hair stroking that Harry is barely aware of.

“And what was the matter with it? I thought it was classy.”

“It doesn’t mean anything.”

“You know what, Draco? It’ll be your own fault if it ends up being called ‘Draco’s Drying-out Den’ or something,” Harry says petulantly.

“Actually, that’s quite—”

A stifled giggle from the other side of the room startles them both, and soon Hermione is gazing down at them from behind the sofa, brushing smoke and dust from her smart work clothes and grinning.

“Hey, ’Mione,” Harry offers as Draco starts to withdraw from their casually intimate lounging position.

“Don’t get up.” She holds up a hand and Draco freezes, elbows digging into Harry’s thighs. “You don’t have to... you know. Anyway. You shouldn’t leave your Floo open, Harry. I just came to tell Draco that we have a date for our initial presentation to the Vulnerable Wizards committee.”

She grins triumphantly and Draco inhales sharply. “Seriously?”

“I’m always serious, Draco, you know that,” she teases, levelling a secret glance at Draco that, just for a moment, makes Harry feel left out. “First step committee, next step Wizengamot, right?”

“And then the world?” Harry wonders aloud, caught up in their tentative excitement and needing to be included somehow.

“You never know,” Draco concedes, tipping his head back to look at Harry and still leaning most of his weight on Harry’s thighs. Harry hides his smile, somewhat unsuccessfully, in his cup.

“Listen, I... I’ll see both of you on Friday anyway, I just...” Hermione fiddles with her overstuffed handbag, mouth twitching at the corners, and Harry both does and really does not want to know what she’s thinking. He’s surprised when she adds, uncertainly: “Maybe it should just be one word, you know, like those ones the celebrities go to. You know, like ‘Promises’ or ‘Possibilities’ or ‘Foundations’.”

Into the ensuing contemplative silence, Hermione flings a “See you soon, boys,” and a bright smile for each of them before disappearing back into the fireplace in a whoosh of green flames.

Draco settles himself flat again, reclaiming his elbows, much to Harry’s relief. His eyes and smile are impressively serene. “Well done that woman,” he mumbles as he tries to suck tea into his mouth without lifting his head. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Harry regards him with a pleased smirk; he’s never been able to resist an opportunity to wind Draco up, especially when one presents itself so plainly.

“You know,” he says innocently, “you could have just asked her right at the beginning.”

Draco’s nostrils flare, and Harry hears the soft scrape of his nails on painted ceramic. “I hate you.”

Harry rests his head against the back cushions of the sofa and strokes Draco’s hair into his eyes on purpose. “Of course you do.”

**~*~**

Lunchtime on Wednesday finds Harry wandering along the fifth floor corridor toward what used to be Chem Dep with an invitation for Shelagh Carmichael in one hand and a book for Narcissa Malfoy in the other.

He’s planning to Apparate over to the Manor with Clive right after he’s done here; Clive hasn’t seen Zeus, Mrs Malfoy or any of the former Not-Malfoy Manor Chem Dep team since before the weekend, and is almost vibrating with excitement.

With a good deal of help from Aquiline and her library, Harry has been working carefully towards an effective treatment for Romilda, and though he’s not there yet, his dogged insistence on talking away to her silent curtain of hair about their progress has, after almost two whole days, come through. As Harry had entered her new private room on Reversals that morning, she had struggled into a half-seated position, face grey but eyes blazing, and furnished him with reasons #10 and #11 from her list without even looking at it.

She had smiled—a brave-face smile that made Harry’s chest ache, but a smile nonetheless—he had smiled back, and then she had passed out again.

Harry frowns and rounds the final corner; the familiar double doors loom into view and he stops.

They’ve done it, finally. The big, shiny, ‘Department of Magical and Chemical Dependence’ sign is missing from above the doorway and in its place are two smaller ones:

--- Conference Room
Ward 43: Assisted Detox ---


He stands there for long seconds before he suppresses with some effort the silly little twist of sadness and makes his way into the ward. The group room is empty and he can see the sleeping patients beyond the open doorway of Stage One... or should he say, Ward 43, as it is now.

“Healer Carmichael?” he calls.

After a moment, Shelagh emerges from what used to be Draco’s office. “Yes? Oh, hello.” She smiles at Harry, and then looks concerned. “What’s the matter?”

“Oh... nothing. I...” Harry sighs, feeling ridiculous all of a sudden. “I saw the signs outside. They finished it, then?”

Shelagh nods, understanding, and he feels a little better. “They did. Want to see it?”

“No. Yes. Not really. But yeah.”

Shelagh laughs kindly. “That’s pretty much how I felt about it, too. Come and see.”

Reluctantly, he trails behind her and, when she invites him to, opens the door that used to lead to Chem Dep’s main lounge.

“Wow.”

“Big change, isn’t it?”

Harry suspects that big change might be an understatement. The clean, comfortable, slightly worn space he remembers has been transformed into an imposing board room. The floor sparkles underfoot and every surface seems swathed in heavy, jewel-coloured fabrics and polished dark wood. The space is dominated by the biggest mahogany table Harry has ever seen, and as he stands there he can almost see Tremellen and his slimy friends sitting around it, laughing about insignificant ex-Death Eater Draco Malfoy and his silly little department.

His fingers grip the door handle hard and it’s an effort to think about Lorne Aquiline and remind himself that not all board members are evil. And that at least Draco doesn’t have to see what they’ve done with his Chem Dep.

“It’s...”

“Obnoxious?” Carmichael supplies, and Harry nods. “I know.”

It’s only when she tugs the door closed once more that he remembers why he came.

“Draco sends this, and his regards,” he explains, handing over the postcard-sized piece of parchment covered in Scary-Craft-Annette’s elegant calligraphy.

‘Foundations’ Therapeutic Community
Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire
Open Day, 1st March 2004
Refreshments, Tours, Exchange of Information!



“How very Draco,” Shelagh observes with a smile. “Is he aware that this is less than a month away?”

Harry nods wearily. “Yes. In his infinite wisdom, he decided that what we all really needed was a deadline to work to,” he explains. “And... that the deadline was only ‘real’ if we made sure that everyone knew about it, hence... this.” He gestures at the parchment in Shelagh’s hand.

“You’re going to be very busy.” Shelagh frowns. “Aren’t you in Dark Arts Reversals at the moment, too?”

“Yep.”

“Good lord. And when on earth do you find time to read?” she asks, glancing at the copy of Animal Farm dangling from his right hand.

Harry laughs even at the thought of having time to read for pleasure. “I don’t. This is for my... Narcissa Malfoy.”

Shelagh’s brows knit together and she scratches at her hairline with the tip of her wand. “I think... I think I’m not going to ask.”

“Good call.” Harry grins. “We’ll see you on the first, Healer Carmichael.”

**~*~**

“It was a very naughty bird today,” Clive says solemnly as they walk down the long corridor in search of Narcissa.

“It certainly was,” Harry agrees, feeling the sting on the back of his ankle with each step he takes. Perhaps growing wise, Evil Peacock has today succeeded in biting Harry for the first time in well over a week, swooping in silently from behind like some kind of feathered ninja. Harry’s actually grudgingly impressed.

Narcissa is standing at the window, face turned into the midday sun, dressed beautifully in robes of pale lavender. Harry often wonders whether her robes, like almost everything else in the bits of the Manor he has seen, are without exception made in pale, soft colours because she prefers them that way, or because she knows about Draco’s pathological aversion to harsh shades.

He suspects she’d tell him if he asked, but he’s not going to. Any further speculation is interrupted by the noisy, enthusiastic collision of small boy and not-dog in the centre of the floor. Narcissa turns at the sound and observes the reunion; there’s a tiny, controlled smile on her lips but the pale eyes glow with pleasure and Harry doesn’t miss it.

“Hello, Mr Potter,” she murmurs without looking at him.

“Mrs Mafloy!” Clive cries, tearing himself away from Zeus and scrambling to the feet of the elegant woman, and Harry half-wonders when anyone last looked so pleased to see her.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she says, rearranging the caramel-coloured hair with pale fingers and finally sparing a glance for Harry. “Disconcerting, isn’t it, to come second to an animal in someone’s affections?”

Her dry tone and arched eyebrow draw Harry’s smile from him effortlessly and he finds himself shrugging. “Depends on the animal, I suppose,” he replies.

“Indeed,” she says, and it’s only then that Harry realises he’s forgotten all of his pureblood manners and Narcissa has either failed to notice or failed to care.

Renewed hope blooms inside him and he offers the book, which she takes, expression speculative.

“I thought you might enjoy this.” He pauses. Meets curious blue eyes. “I... well, you seemed to make your peace with the other one... eventually.”

“This is the same writer,” she observes, turning the book over to examine it.

Harry nods. “Yes. It’s about... well, I’m sure you won’t need my interpretation, although I’d...” Harry hesitates, glancing momentarily down at Clive, who’s crouching down and scratching Zeus’ belly. Oh, fuck it. “I’d be interested to hear what you make of it,” he finishes.

The surprise is apparent on the fine-boned face for approximately half a second before it is neatly covered over with cool complacency. “Certainly, Mr Potter. Per gratia.”

“Harry? There you are.” Draco appears in the doorway of the sun room and glances around at the scene. “Hello, Clive.”

“’Lo, Drake,” Clive says, glancing up from his furry playmate.

Draco’s pained expression is still far more amusing than it should be, and Harry fights to keep the smile from him face as he excuses himself and walks alongside Draco in the direction of the East Wing.

“It must be strange for her, you know.”

“What must?”

“You,” Draco clarifies, as though it’s obvious. “This is probably the first time someone’s trying to make friends with her... not just because of who she is.”

Harry slows, frowning, resting a hand on Draco’s wrist. “Draco, that’s exactly why I’m trying to make friends with her.”

“What?”

“Well, no offence, but... it’s not because of her sparkling personality,” Harry says. “It’s because she’s your mum.”

“True,” Draco concedes. “Though it’s... well, it’s almost as though you’re courting my mother. It’s disturbing.”

Harry laughs softly at his tone, judiciously ignoring the implication. “Jealous?” Harry teases.

“I don’t do jealousy,” Draco says confidently. He glances over his shoulder at Harry as he flicks his wand over the newly-warded doors to the East Wing lounge, and his eyes defy Harry to disagree.

As they step into the room, Harry’s response dies in his throat at the surreal scene laid out in front of him. Lively music swells and fills the cavernous space, and in the centre of the polished floor, in a gap between rugs, Ginny is laughing and being spun around by what can only be the elusive Mephisto Marley.

Draco steps into the room behind him and releases a long-suffering sigh, as though he expects nothing less. “I don’t know if I even want to ask.”

“She made the mistake of saying that no one is as good a dancer as Mephisto was insisting he was,” Fyz puts in, lowering his wand from the wall display he’s in the middle of creating. He lifts a dubious eyebrow. “I’ve only known the man twenty-four hours, but I’m not sure I’d have walked into that one.”

“I never thought I’d say this, Fyzal, but that’s because you have more sense,” Draco sighs.

He is a good dancer, Harry has to give him that; he twirls Ginny back and forth as though she’s weightless and seems possessed of this natural fucking grace that sometimes Harry thinks he’s the only one without. Or perhaps not the only one, because Ginny stumbles once or twice as he watches her, but she’s grinning and flushed and Harry only just stops himself from feeling indignant on Neville’s behalf by reminding himself that Marley is gay.

Very, very gay, according to Draco. Harry wonders, if there really are levels, strata of gayness, where he himself would fall.

Beside him, Draco flicks his wand-arm and the music ceases. Finally, they appear to have Ginny and Marley’s attention.

“Alright,” he says, dipping Ginny low one final time and meeting Harry’s eyes. Mephisto flashes a huge, white grin. “Wonder Boy’s here.”

Harry bristles, closing his eyes briefly against the prickle of irritation. It’s not a good start.

“Don’t start,” Draco warns the grinning man; his tone is weary but the way he angles his body slightly in front of Harry—whether conscious or instinctive—is gratifying.

Ginny disentangles herself and shoots her dance partner a dark look before smiling apologetically at Draco and Harry and hurrying to return to her work at the large table under the windows. Mephisto holds up his hands in mock surrender and crosses the vast room towards them, finally allowing Harry to get a good look at him.

Tall and remarkably handsome with shoulder-length dark waves and equally dark eyes, he reminds Harry immediately and uncomfortably of a young Sirius Black and has, from what Harry can see, all of his late godfather’s arrogant charm. His robes are clearly expensive and there’s something about the way he carries himself that makes Harry suspect he’s never done a day’s hard work in his life.

Harry takes a deep breath and shakes the large hand that’s held out to him. He returns Mephisto’s bright smile with some effort and reminds himself over and over not to judge on first impressions. And more importantly, for whatever reason, this person is Draco’s friend and colleague, and as such, he’s going to make an effort if it kills him.

“Nice to meet you at last, Harry Potter,” he says, releasing Harry’s hand, and this time Harry just about picks out the light Irish lilt amongst the upper class tones. It’s a nice, pleasant voice and he grudgingly slides some mental points back in Mephisto’s direction.

“Likewise. I’ve heard a lot about you,” Harry offers, and Draco snorts beside him.

Mephisto grins and then looks away from Harry, instead turning beseeching dark eyes upon Draco. “Why must you always ruin my fun, Draco?”

“Someone has to keep you under control.”

Wounded, he folds his arms and sighs heavily. Draco merely lifts an eyebrow, unmoved.

Harry stands perfectly still and watches their silent exchange with interest until Draco caves and rewards Mephisto with a surprisingly warm smile, and Mephisto claps him on the shoulder, triumphant. Draco doesn’t flinch.

The idea of jealousy that they’d so easily laughed off in the corridor suddenly seems less than amusing; now it yanks at Harry’s insides like many tiny hooks, pulling and pulling at him until he’s absolutely enraged that this attractive—and doesn’t he bloody know it—man with an Irish accent and the ability to dance is touching Draco and making him smile and Draco is letting him.

It’s ludicrous, of course it is, and Harry throws every bit of restraint he has into not letting this sudden, visceral reaction show on his face, but still... it unnerves him to see Draco so at ease with this person; after all, he still panics when Ginny hugs him, and Harry doesn’t think he’s even seen Narcissa touch her son in an affectionate way.

But it’s fine. He’s being ridiculous. You are being ridiculous, he reiterates firmly to himself as he stands there not hearing a word of their conversation.

Until he catches his own name, far too late to establish the context:

“...Harry did that,” Draco is saying, and Harry glances at him, light with relief that the hand has left his shoulder but having no idea what Draco is talking about, or if a response is expected of him. “Didn’t you?” Draco nudges him lightly and he curses his inattentiveness for the millionth time.

“Mm,” Harry offers vaguely, but the grey eyes are so warm on his and Draco is smiling indulgently and there are cool fingertips grazing his wrist and sliding under the worn string in an achingly familiar gesture and it’s alright.

“I’m impressed, Wonder Boy,” Mephisto comments, and Harry doesn’t even have to look at him.

“Marley.” Draco’s tone is a warning.

“It’s a compliment,” Mephisto insists.

Harry doesn’t take his eyes off Draco, just listens carefully as the man gives up and strides across the room to speak to Ginny, sharp footsteps echoing off the hard floor.

Draco sighs. “You hate him.”

Guilt-flooded suddenly, Harry bites his lip. What was it that Aquiline had said? “Hate is a very strong word,” he offers eventually.

Draco releases his wrist and rakes through his own hair, lips curving into a wan smile. “Diplomat.”

“Optimist.”

“Idiot.”

“Yes.”

Draco laughs warmly, and Harry almost forgets all about Mephisto Marley and his white teeth and his posh Irish accent. “Yes,” Draco whispers, and wanders off to look over Fyzal’s shoulder at the work-in-progress wall display.

Rich laughter echoes across the room; Harry looks over just in time to see Ginny roll her eyes good-naturedly and shove Mephisto in the arm.

No, it’s no good. Harry leans against the wall and shoves his hands in his pockets. He sighs, and wonders if it’s alright to hate Mephisto just a little bit.

Chapter Text

After leaving Clive, Narcissa, and Zeus to their game of something intriguing involving bubbles that he doesn’t have time to ask about, Harry Apparates to the hallway just outside the wards of the East Wing lounge to save time. He wants to show his face but he’s running late this afternoon; Reversals has been non-stop, and there’s no way he’s missing his shot at the Thursday Pity Flapjack.

Tradition is tradition, after all, regardless of fledgling rehab centres and new rotations and—

Fuck!”

Approximately two paces inside the lounge, Harry’s feet jerk from under him as the familiar sensation of a Trip Jinx catches him just below the knees and pitches him forward abruptly. Though his stomach swoops unpleasantly at the shock, Harry actually falls very well, having had plenty of practice during numerous duels, and he catches himself easily with just one hand and one knee meeting the floor.

Having noted only two occupants of the room before he started to fall, Harry makes a split-second educated guess as to the perpetrator and, without looking up, disarms Mephisto silently and without drawing his wand. The stinging smack of birch into his palm is satisfying, as is the expression of astonishment on the handsome face when Harry looks up and straight into coal-black eyes.

Heart racing, pleasure mixes with hot fury as Harry forces a grim smile.

“Marley... what the fuck was that for?” He gets to his feet, refusing the hand that’s held out to him.

“Nothing special,” Marley shrugs, flashing a sparkling smile. “Though I expected the Saviour of the Wizarding world to have a bit more awareness.”

Awareness?” Harry fumes, still gripping the birch wand tightly. “For god’s sake, Marley! I shouldn’t have to anticipate random attacks when I come here!”

Teeth gritted, he folds his arms, awaiting a response and wondering where the hell Draco is. After a moment or two of tense silence, Marley’s features soften and he blinks slowly at Harry with what can only be described as a wounded puppy expression on his face.

The fact that Harry’s anger with him starts to subside at the sight of it, paradoxically, just fuels his ire.

“I wasn’t attacking you, Wonder Boy,” Mephisto says softly, eyes appealing. “I was only playing.”

Confused, Harry scrubs a hand over his face and sighs. For some reason, perhaps the expressive eyes, perhaps the fact that Draco has been friends with this prat for five years, Harry actually believes him. Believes that there’s no malice behind his actions. And yet... wanker.

“Well... don’t. And stop calling me Wonder Boy,” he snaps, throwing Marley’s wand back to him and stomping in the opposite direction across the lounge, which just happens to be toward Scary Craft Lady.

He can’t say they’ve had many conversations; if he’s honest she still freaks him out a little bit, but right now she’s the lesser of two evils and Harry is determined not to just walk straight out following his exchange with Mephisto.

I’m not letting you win, Flo, he promises silently, and the memory of the man’s ridiculous middle name almost raises a smile, as well as considerably undermining his smug, effortless cool.

“Hello, Harry.” Scary Craft Lady removes a paintbrush from between her teeth and beams at him. She’s sitting cross-legged atop the huge table and appears to be painting something abstract with lots of soft, calming colours; if it seems an awkward position for painting, Harry doesn’t mention it; he knows bugger all about art. “Don’t mind him, I think he’s bored. You fall very well.”

Amused and baffled, Harry nods carefully. “Thanks, Sc—Annette,” he amends just in time.

She doesn’t seem to notice, just continues with her painting, and Harry watches her, leaning against the table at her side. At somewhere in her mid-forties, Scary Craft Annette is by far the oldest member of the Foundations team and is, bizarrely, in charge of both creative and administrative duties. She reminds Harry of the art teacher he had at primary school and is all dungarees and dirty-blonde plaits and copper earrings shaped like chickens.

“Where’s everyone else?” he asks at last.

She smudges powder blue paint across her canvas with a little sponge. “They went to Diagon Alley to buy bed linen for the patients’ bedrooms.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow, incredulous. “Draco, Ginny and Fyzal are shopping for bed linen? Together?”

Annette smiles serenely. “That’s right.”

Try as he might, Harry can’t quite shake the image of the three of them arguing over thread counts, or spots versus stripes, and despite his earlier irritation, can’t contain a tiny snort of laughter.

“Every time I think I’ve heard everything...” Harry sighs and stretches. “I can’t stay. Please would you tell Draco I was here?”

“Mmhm.” Annette nods but doesn’t look up, and Harry lingers just long enough to see her scrawl a pale blue ‘HARRY WAS HERE’ with her paintbrush on a piece of old Daily Prophet.

**~*~**

“Move your arse, Harry,” Cecile complains, as soon as he’s within hearing range of their usual canteen table. “We had to start without you.”

“You can’t start without me!” Harry drops into his chair, shoots a covetous glance at the cinnamon-raisin flapjack in the centre of the table and a scandalised one at Cecile. “I’m an integral part of the flapjack ritual.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Cecile returns, but she’s grinning and Harry sticks out his tongue.

“Have you all been, then?” Harry barely restrains his pout and picks at the edge of his coffee cup.

“Sorry, Harry... we were all so hungry, and there’s only so long you can stare at a flapjack without wanting to eat it,” Eloise sighs.

“Terry’s front-runner so far, with his ‘Healer Gretagne is a sodding slave-driver and possibly a bit of a pervert’, so let’s have your best shot,” Cecile adds, drawing a face in her cappuccino foam.

Harry exchanges an intrigued glance with Terry, who nods grimly and then flicks a brief smile, no doubt tasting victory. As he tries to cast his mind back over his shift, it becomes quickly apparent that Harry’s head is full of nothing but Mephisto arsing Marley. Even as he sits there, looking into his steaming coffee, he can feel the as-yet-suppressed rant building in his throat, and it’s going to have to come out.

“He bloody Trip Jinxed me,” Harry blurts without pre-amble, and he barely registers the confused expressions of his three friends. “I just walked in the room, and he... for no reason! I don’t think he wants to hurt me or anything but just... he’s obviously got this problem with me and I don’t know why. He keeps calling me Wonder Boy, for crying out loud...” Harry rests his elbows on the hard shiny tabletop and rakes both hands through his hair. “And he’s all Irish and handsome and elegant and it’s insane but I... I hate him. I fucking hate him.”

Harry falls silent and chews on his lip; he feels infinitely calmer for the outburst and breathes deeply, slowly raising his eyes back to his friends when there’s no response.

Cecile is sipping her coffee, green eyes pensive, and Eloise wrinkles her nose sympathetically.

“Who?” asks Terry, and Cecile groans and flicks him on the wrist.

“Mephisto ‘Private joke, sorry’ Marley,” Harry supplies.

“The guy who’s come over to... ah.” Terry shifts in his seat, understanding, and sighs. “I never get to win, do I?”

With a rapid series of nods, the plate is pushed in Harry’s direction and he bites half of it off in one go, cupping a hand under his chin to catch falling raisins and crumbs. “Nice one, Flo,” he mumbles under his breath and licks cinnamon-sugar from his bottom lip.

“You know, this is sounding awfully familiar.”

Frowning, Harry looks at Cecile, whose thoughtful expression has shifted into one of studied innocence. “What?”

“Well, you used to rant about Malfoy like this, and now you’re shagging him.”

Harry is so horrified that he spits his reply through his mouthful of flapjack. “Cecile. Fuck’s sake. This ’snot th’same. I really do hate ’im.”

“It’s a fine line,” Cecile insists, face perfectly straight.

Harry swallows the last of his mouthful and glares at her.

“Cecile, don’t be horrible.” Eloise toys with her teabag string and levels a glance at Cecile that’s three parts disapproval and one part badly-concealed amusement.

“Yeah, Cecile, don’t be horrible,” Terry murmurs, dark eyes glowing as he leans back in his chair, and Harry is reminded once more of children in the playground; Terry might as well pull Cecile’s hair and have done with it.

“Fine. On a serious note, I don’t much care for people who hex my friends... other than me, of course.” Cecile’s smirk lights her whole face. “Let’s think of something horrible you can do to him the next time you see him. Itching powder’s always fun...”

Harry smiles. It’s definitely not big or clever but he doesn’t always feel like being a grown up, anyway.

“... nipple-twisting hex?” Eloise is saying at his side, wrapping a mousy curl around her finger.

Harry loves his friends.

**~*~**

Although Harry manages to resist twisting Marley’s nipples or putting itching powder in his pants (just about), as the days wear on and the Open Day deadline looms ever closer, he is able to step back a little in order to figure out what’s really bothering him about Mephisto.

In between gruelling shifts and meetings with Aquiline and ferrying Clive back and forth, Harry rolls up his sleeves and pitches in with the preparations and, as much of it is mindless spellwork or physical labour, he takes the opportunity to observe the Irishman in his interactions with Draco and the rest of the team. To be fair, Mephisto hasn’t hexed Harry again and even seems to be keeping a somewhat wounded respectful distance where possible, but still.

“Draco, what is it with you and all this Muggle paraphernalia?” he teases, striding into the lounge with a stack of parchments under his arm and a handful of shiny silver paperclips. “Remember Ferdinand from Chem Dep...?”

“—Malfoy, real wizards use their wands!” Draco chimes in, turning from the fireplace where he’s working alongside Harry, and he and Marley dissolve into laughter.

Harry fights down the lick of hot irritation inside him and sighs. That’s what it is. Marley’s known Draco as a friend for far longer than Harry has, and their conversation is full of reminiscences and playful insults that Harry hasn’t a hope of understanding. Not only that, Marley delights in making fun of all the silly little things that Harry loves about Draco, like his stationery and his clothes and his enthusiasm for bizarre coffee syrups.

More often than not, Draco takes this in good humour and always gives as good as he gets—Marley’s hair and accent and Durmstrang education all come under regular fire—but it irks Harry nevertheless.

Chewing his thumbnail down to the quick, Harry watches Draco step away from the fireplace to engage Mephisto in a debate that seems to involve a lot of hand-waving and exasperation on Draco’s part and a good deal of sighing and arm-folding on Marley’s.

The thing is, the adult part of him wants to get on with the man. In his own oft-repeated words, it matters to Draco, so it matters to him. Harry can’t help thinking that, in hindsight, Narcissa Malfoy was a breeze.

“You’re going to have no thumbnail left at all,” Draco murmurs, returning to his side and pulling at his hand. “What’s the matter?”

Harry meets searching grey eyes and sighs softly. “Nothing, I just... do you think we’re done with this one?” he asks, changing tack and indicating at the restored fireplace.

He catches Draco’s brief frown in his peripheral vision and holds his breath, but after a moment, his sleeve is released and Draco appears to let his anxiety slide for the time being.

“Yeah... looks good. We—”

“Finished!” cries Fyz from across the room, and they turn. “At long bloody last.”

Everyone abandons their work in various parts of the room to congregate behind Fyzal and his finally completed wall display.

Harry reflects that Fyzal is actually proving a surprisingly useful person to have around. Granted, he possesses a spectacular talent for saying the absolute worst thing in any given situation that no amount of rehab will ever squeeze out of him, and he attracts trouble to him like flies to sugar, but his boundless energy and exceptional Household Charm-work have so far proved invaluable. Even Ginny’s had to eat her words.

“What do you think?” Fyzal asks the assembled team, garnering instant murmurs of approval and admiration.

Fyz’s assessment that he was ‘pants at Transfiguration’ is frighteningly accurate, Harry thinks; the man couldn’t make a pin into a needle if his life depended on it, but, after some creative consultation with Annette, he’s spent the better part of two weeks casting and twisting a complex web of charms to create this impressive representation, in carved beech and wrought silver, of everything that Foundations stands for.

Though he’s clearly taken his inspiration from Draco’s Chem Dep original, the new display is larger, more imposing and glows with a newness and permanence that makes Harry feel like he’s part of something huge.

Est. 1st March 2004, the silver letters along the bottom proclaim, somewhat optimistically.

“Brilliant, Fyz,” Harry says, and means it.

“You’re an artist,” Scary Annette offers. “I knew you were.”

“I’m impressed, Caruso,” Ginny offers with a flickering smile, and Fyz turns to smirk at her, dark eyes glowing with pride.

Unsurprisingly, Fyz is waiting on Draco’s opinion, but the man at Harry’s side is uncharacteristically silent. Harry shoots him a sidelong glance and takes in the lips firmly pressed together, the eyebrows drawn down and the hand automatically lifting to push through his hair.

To an initiated observer, Draco radiates stern disapproval, but Harry knows better. He’s standing close enough to hear the slight catch in Draco’s breathing, to feel the tension in the hand that brushes his at his side and to see the flicker of unguarded emotion in the pale eyes.

At Fyzal’s expectant look, Draco clears his throat and allows the smile to tug at his lips. “What they said. It’s perfect, thank you.” With what looks like some effort, Draco forces a rueful smirk. “No way we can miss our deadline now, is there?”

As warm, slightly nervous laughter ripples around the group, Harry catches and grips Draco’s fingers. Just for a second or two, but the small, grateful smile he receives in return tells him all he needs to know. So, Marley shares a lot of things with Draco, but not this. Not this comfort in touch and this ability to communicate without words.

“Meus fabula and what now?” Mephisto says at last, brow furrowed, reading from the display in front of him.

Oh dear, Marley, Harry sighs silently, suppressing a smile. I thought all good purebloods knew their classical languages.

“It’s Latin,” Harry and Fyzal offer at exactly the same time, drawing a disconcerted look from Mephisto.

When the baffled man turns away, shaking his head, they exchange pleased grins, and Draco snorts, apparently amused. Harry doesn’t want it to be a pissing contest, he really doesn’t, but...

It’s still nice to win one.

**~*~**

Lorne Aquiline is a morning person.

This suits Harry just fine, because he’s one, too, and their early morning progress meetings in the second-floor office have quickly become his favourite part of the working day. Aquiline hadn’t been exaggerating when she talked about her busy schedule, but she without fail clears a space for Harry first thing each day.

They soon develop a routine, which consists mainly of drinking Nurse Bates’ excellent coffee and discussing Harry’s most recent diagnoses and treatments. Aquiline encourages an open dialogue and pushes Harry to ask and answer his own questions just as often as she provides the solutions herself. Harry relishes the challenge and, for his own part, is learning to judge the humour of his new mentor by her position during meetings:

If she’s sitting behind her desk, she’s under pressure and the meeting will be short; if she’s sitting on the edge of the desk, the dark, playful humour colours their exchanges, and if she’s pacing back and forth between desk and bookcase, Harry braces himself to have questions fired at him from all angles.

Today is both a Wednesday and an edge-of-the-desk day.

Harry smiles discreetly as he takes his seat and shuffles the items in his hands: Romilda’s case notes and the Retrievo-Box. He intends to spend part of today’s meeting getting a little closer to an effective treatment for her, and knows he hasn’t a hope of remembering everything Aquiline might say; her delivery is without exception rapid-fire, uncompromising and hesitation-free.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he says, holding up the case file and setting the box on the desk next to her. Carefully, he opens it. He’s uncertain of the etiquette of using such a device, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Aquiline’s delighted smile startles him. She abandons her coffee and gazes at Harry, eyes alight with interest.

“May I?”

Harry nods, surprised, and she picks up the small box. She holds it up to her face and examines it from every angle, humming with approval. After a moment, she extends a bony finger and delicately prods at the pulsing silver-blue light, which immediately stills around the digit. Both Healers watch, transfixed, as the light performs an odd little shudder that makes Aquiline shiver, withdraw her finger, and emit a sharp bark of laughter.

Without a word, she holds out the box to Harry and raises dark eyebrows hopefully. Harry, secretly thrilled by this show of childlike curiosity from a woman he’d assumed was near-impossible to impress, realises that she’s asking for a demonstration and desperately doesn’t want to let her down.

Thinking carefully, he dips his fingertips into the light and grins at Healer Aquiline.

Note to self,” advises Harry’s voice from the little box. “Stop thinking about obnoxious boardroom, and remember that not all board members are special evil subspecies of human being. Healer Aquiline, case in point, is very cool.”

“I’m flattered, Healer Potter.” Aquiline returns his smile, pointed teeth glinting in the silvery light. “That’s a remarkable piece of equipment. Lovely charm work, isn’t it? Didn’t like me at all,” she muses, examining her fingers.

“Thank you.” Harry takes the box from her and rests it in his lap. “Well, I’m no expert, but I’m told it’s supposed to respond to my magical signature and no one else’s.”

“That’s right. Those are terribly rare, you know. Where on earth did you get it?”

Harry fidgets and gazes down at the box on his knee. He’d suspected as much, with, well, Draco being Draco, but even so, the implication warms him pleasantly.

“It was a Christmas gift,” he says, looking up at Healer Aquiline.

Her eyes widen. “Quite some gift, that.”

Harry nods, wondering what’s coming. “Yes.”

Aquiline holds out her hand for the case notes and scans Harry’s most recent scribbles with an odd little smile on her face. “You’re going to need more than three layers on that Containment Field.” Harry nods and slips fingers into the box as she speaks. “The Unbroken Circle is very risky in her condition. Do you think Mr Malfoy would know where I could get hold of one of those?”

When Harry looks up, she’s gazing wistfully over the top of the notes at the Retrievo-Box. He lifts an eyebrow, sighs, and resolves to give up his attempts to steer Aquiline’s conversation away from Draco, because it clearly doesn’t work.

“I can ask him, if you want.”

“Marvellous. Now, this Stasis Charm you’re talking about on the last page—have you thought about how it could react with a patient who is already unconscious eighty percent of the time?”

“Yes, but if you look—” Harry leans forward to point at a spot further down the page, “—I’m thinking of using that one to counter-balance, and at this point...”

“At this point?” Aquiline prods.

Harry drags in a lungful of musty air and grips the carved box, thinking of Romilda’s continued deterioration over the last week. Those options he’d assured her of are closing down fast.

“At this point I think we need to just do something, anything.” Harry meets Aquiline’s steady gaze, both hoping for her approval and knowing he’s right. “I think the risk is becoming insignificant compared to doing nothing.”

“Good Healing is knowing when to take that risk, Healer Potter,” she says with a brief nod. “And you won’t always get it right.”

The implication is not lost on Harry, and he commits his full focus to their subsequent discussion, fingertips transmitting every examined angle and idea and suggestion to the box for future reference.

Clever Draco.

It’s with a head full of information that Harry rises, some half an hour later, and heads for the manic ward beyond the office door.

“By the way, Healer Potter, I will be there for your Open Day,” Aquiline offers, indicating the square of parchment tacked to her notice board with what looks suspiciously like a claw of some kind; Harry dreads to think what it used to belong to. “A Saturday, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It’ll be great to have you there.” Harry hesitates at the door and appeals to the humour once more flickering in the dark eyes. “I think Draco’s a bit worried about who else might turn up from the hospital, since it’s not exactly invitation only,” he confesses, and Aquiline smirks.

“I’d like to say that Augustus wouldn’t dare, but I’ve a feeling that he’ll have to see it for himself to believe it,” Aquiline says. “It won’t surprise you a bit to know that he’s been highly sceptical about the whole thing.”

Harry grants her a wry smile and wraps his arms around Romilda’s case notes. “So was Draco. He once said that the day he opens a treatment centre is the day Healer Tremellen comes to work in drag,” he confides before he can stop himself.

Horrified by his lack of self-restraint, he clamps his mouth shut as soon as the words are out and closes his eyes briefly, but Aquiline only laughs.

“You know,” she muses, mouth still twitching, “I believe that Augustus and your Mr Malfoy have something in common... I think they’d both dearly love to... and here’s a little phrase I’ve picked up from Nurse Bates—” Aquiline pauses and meets Harry’s eyes, “—get one over on each other.”

“I dare say you’re right,” Harry manages, just about managing to keep a straight face. “Thanks for your help, Healer Aquiline.”

He’s still struggling with a smile when he enters his first patient’s room a little later than usual, and when the impatient curse victim does indeed spit messily over the front of his robes, he’s inexplicably amused. His grin prompts the patient to sulk visibly and ask if he can’t have a sane Healer.

Grin widening, Harry draws his wand, begins his usual battery of spells and shakes his head. “I’m not sure there are any, Mr Magellan.”

**~*~**

Romilda is sleeping when Harry goes to collect Clive for their now-daily trip to the Manor.

The little boy had been watching her in silence from his chair but looks up when Harry approaches the bed and beams.

“Mrs Mafloy said I could teach Zoos some tricks today,” he informs Harry, eyes bright with excitement.

“Did she now?” Harry murmurs distractedly, glancing at his unconscious patient with a knot in his stomach. He’s not looking forward to the conversation about risky treatment options he knows is coming, but Clive doesn’t need to know that. The little boy displays an acceptance and adaptability toward his odd temporary lifestyle that seems to Harry to be unique to small children, and not all of them at that, and he doesn’t want to disturb it.

“She did, Harry.” Clive’s expression is reproachful, and Harry smiles at him.

As they set out together on the familiar journey, Harry reflects that, despite what Draco might have to say on the subject, it’s unlikely to ever stop amusing him that the only names Clive appears to struggle with are those of the Malfoys. He’s fine with Harry, Ginny, Annette and Fyz. He’s even had a good stab at Mephisto. And yet, to Draco’s exasperation and Narcissa’s calm amusement, ‘Drake’ and ‘Mrs Mafloy’ have stubbornly stuck.

When he sets Clive down, Narcissa hands over a small bag of duck-flavoured treats and the little boy looks up at Harry as if to say ‘I told you, see?’ and drags Zeus, with some effort, into a corner of the sun-room to commence the serious matter of Crup Training.

Narcissa watches the pair from her chair for a moment before turning to Harry. “I finished the book, Mr Potter.”

“Oh?”

Surprised, Harry meets her calm gaze and takes a step closer to her, waiting, and for the very first time during these exchanges, Narcissa invites him to sit. Or, perhaps, ‘invites’ is the wrong word, because what actually happens is the careless flick of a wand before the chair Harry has just edged past slides forward and nudges sharply at the backs of his knees until he folds into it, startled.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, as he sits obediently and stares at Narcissa, is the memory of Draco pulling a very similar move. He wonders which of them it belongs to.

She rests pale hands in her lap. “I was wondering which of many, many possible points you were attempting to make this time.”

Harry glances out of the window at the wintry grounds and takes a deep breath. A conversation is never just a conversation with this woman, but there’s a good chance that he’s not helping matters with his book choices. “Perhaps I wasn’t trying to make a point,” he says at last.

Narcissa’s grimly amused exhalation speaks volumes. “‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’,” she quotes. “Is this how you believe I think of the world?”

Harry pauses, nervousness speeding his pulse. “Should I?” he asks boldly.

“I would never presume to tell you what to believe, Mr Potter. But... all people are not equal, however much you may wish it were so. However,” she presses on, when Harry tries to interrupt, “I am not so naive nor so closed minded as to believe that such an assessment of value should be based on... solely on the purity of one’s blood.”

Surprised both by the directness and the sentiment itself, Harry frowns. “But...”

Narcissa glances over to the corner of the room, satisfying herself that Clive is otherwise occupied before continuing, voice lowered. “I was never a Death Eater, Mr Potter. Do you know that?”

“Yes,” Harry almost whispers, stomach twisting. He had anticipated some carefully veiled debate about political corruption, perhaps even about power and about how even the most abhorrent regimes have their roots in something logical or essentially good, but once again this astute, composed woman has neatly outmanoeuvred him.

As he watches, she pointedly lifts a hand to sweep an unseen strand of blonde hair from her face, and allows the light silk sleeve to slide to her elbow. The fair skin is unblemished.

“I would always say that people like yourself did not understand our world,” she says.

“I’m not Muggle-born, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry points out, unsure quite what he’s protesting about.

Narcissa lifts an eyebrow, looking mildly entertained. “I was at school with your father. I know this. But you were not raised with magic.”

“But—”

“Allow me to finish. The world is different now, you understand.” She turns to gaze out at the grounds again, and Harry takes the opportunity to study the smooth angles of her face, the slightly pointed nose and the faint lines around her eyes that he’d never really noticed before. Into his mind flashes the knowledge that his mother, had she been alive, would have been a similar age, and as a little pang of longing grips him, he wonders where exactly that thought came from.

“It is not the world I grew up in,” she continues, and something in her voice strikes Harry. “Being pureblood used to be something to be proud of; now there is almost a shame attached to it. I cannot understand.”

Harry shifts in his chair and tries not to pick at his nails. He wonders if she knows about the aggressively pro-Muggle-born recruitment policies adopted by the Ministry and other large employers after the war. He’s never really allowed himself to consider how the so-called positive discrimination might appear to people like Narcissa, but as she once more meets his gaze with eyes that are all unruffled challenge, there’s nowhere to hide.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mrs Malfoy.” Harry hesitates, unsure exactly how he should word his response. “I think your culture is very important, even if... I don’t always understand it.”

The blue eyes flicker with brief amusement, and Harry suspects she’s thinking about wine and jam and well-intentioned attempts at Latin. And grateful handbags.

“I am enjoying Mr Orwell,” she says suddenly, indicating the book in an abrupt change of tack. “Perhaps Draco is not completely wrong in his enthusiasm for all things Muggle. Though he doesn’t need to know that.”

Her tone is almost conspiratorial, and Harry’s heart lifts with it. “I won’t tell him.”

Rising, she crosses the room and retrieves a well-worn Wizarding novel with moving, shimmering text on the cover and offers it to Harry. He takes it from her with a soft, puzzled, “Thank you.”

“I suspect you’ll enjoy this, Mr Potter. It’s about a man who didn’t know when to give up,” Narcissa says, and she smiles.

Fighting down a daft grin, Harry gets up and wraps his arms around the book. “I suspect you’re trying to make a point.”

“Not at all,” she demurs, eyes flashing warmth for a split second as she settles back into her chair.

“He doesn’t want to roll over, Mrs Mafloy!” calls a frustrated little voice from the corner of the room, and they both turn to see an exasperated Clive standing over a joyful, tail-wagging, slightly puzzled-looking Zeus, who indeed doesn’t appear inclined to roll over.

“That is my cue.”

“Mine too, probably,” Harry admits. He wants to see Draco before his lunch break is over, and wouldn’t quite know how to explain to Draco that he’d run out of time because he was not-really-discussing-literature with his mother. “Thank you for the book,” he adds, heading for the door. “Pera gratia.”

“Reverto... pera gratia,” comes the response, just before he closes the door.

Intriguing.

**~*~**

As he enters the main lounge, Harry’s eyes fall immediately upon the little group around the vast table. Ginny and Annette are perching on the shiny surface and listening intently to Mephisto, who is sitting backwards, straddling a chair and explaining something which seems to require a lot of illustrative hand gestures. Edging closer, Harry realises he’s talking about his experiences as a group leader in Dublin.

He’s making a lot of sense, too, and Harry is grudgingly impressed. Though the man doesn’t speak with the all-consuming passion that colours Draco’s words whenever he talks about drug treatment, his understanding and competence is plain to see and he throws around terms like ‘Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy’ and ‘Relapse Prevention’ with an ease that makes Harry envious. More so.

Finally, Marley sees him and flashes his trademark grin. “Pull up a chair, Wonder Boy. I was just telling Gin and Annie how we do rehab in Ireland,” he explains, accent thickening with each word.

If the girls mind the familiar takes on their names, they don’t say so.

“Don’t call me Wonder Boy,” he says for perhaps the fiftieth time, wondering why he bothers.

Before Marley can respond, Fyz saunters over and jumps up on the table. “Were you in rehab in Ireland, too, then?”

Marley’s handsome features flicker in mild annoyance. Harry knows he wasn’t, and he suspects that Fyz does, too. Good old Fyz.

“No. I was a group leader for two years at Dublin’s premier treatment facility. I have credentials, you know,” he says, sounding offended.

“I don’t doubt it,” Fyz replies, grinning, and Marley looks utterly thrown off-balance.

His confusion helps Harry to grant him a genuine smile as he apologises and explains that he’s short of time and needs to speak to Draco. As the conversation picks up once more, Harry turns to Fyz, who, as usual, looks extremely amused.

“Fyz... you know a bit of Latin, don’t you? What’s ‘reverto’? Reversed?” he guesses.

Fyz shakes his head. “No. Reverto, literally, means ‘I return’.”

“Thanks, Fyz.”

Harry shrinks down Narcissa’s book and slips it into his pocket as he wanders through the East Wing to Draco’s new office.

If someone had told him, three months ago, that he’d be grinning like an idiot because Narcissa Malfoy had told him that she returned his grateful handbag, he would’ve...

... well, something.

**~*~**

“Good of you to call in,” Draco offers without looking up from his paperwork.

There’s an edge to his tone that deflates Harry’s good humour quite a bit. Suppressing a sigh, Harry leans on the doorframe and watches Draco in silence as he moves his quill across the page. An escaped swathe of blond hair obscures his eyes but there’s a tension to his jaw that makes Harry’s insides twist uneasily.

Just recently, that tight strain seems to be everywhere Harry looks. It’s like a constant, low-level hum of friction that drapes around everything and wraps tight until it’s an effort just to breathe easily, and Harry hates it. He wants to believe... he does believe... that Draco’s stress isn’t about him, just like his isn’t about Draco, but he still wishes he could take it all away.

“I’m sorry. Can you stop doing that for a bit?” Harry requests, and Draco’s quill stops mid-sentence, though he doesn’t look up.

Draco’s frantic preparations for both the Foundations open day and his and Hermione’s impending presentation of their legislation reform paper have been helpfully supplemented this week by an avalanche of Ministry forms that need to be filled out immediately, and that apparently no one else can help him with.

“Draco,” Harry tries again, closing the door and approaching the desk. Needing this, even if just for a minute or two, before he has to re-enter a world where Mephisto Marley exists and Romilda Vane is dying because he doesn’t know how to help her.

The exhalation is long and ragged, and when Draco finally throws down his quill and raises his eyes to Harry’s, the tempest of irritation swirling there strikes him hard.

“Tell me, because I think I’m losing my senses,” he says, getting up and kicking his chair away with venom. “Tell me why the Ministry, in their wisdom, need to know what my ceilings are made out of? How wide are your doorways, Mr Malfoy? Who has used this room before, Mr Malfoy? Are you planning to breathe without our permission, Mr Malfoy?”

Grey eyes flash fury and Draco crosses his arms and stares at Harry, nostrils flaring. Oddly, Harry’s relieved. Ranting is good. Ranting is much preferable to silent simmering any day.

“I don’t know, Draco. But you already have your licence, remember. Come here.” Harry draws him closer and guides him into a sitting position on the edge of the desk, ignoring his stiff posture and nudging his thighs apart to stand between them, hands resting on Draco’s tense shoulders.

“I’m drowning in fucking red tape,” Draco complains bitterly, resting his forehead against Harry’s chest and muttering into it, arms still crossed.

Harry rests his chin on top of the blond head and sighs, wrapping his arms around his discontent partner and feeling some of the tension start to leech out of his body at the contact.

“You finished your office, though,” he observes, looking around.

“Mm,” Draco huffs, hot breath warming Harry’s skin through his thin sweater. Slowly, his arms uncross and Harry feels cool hands creeping under his clothes to rest on his back.

It’s odd, Harry thinks. This office contains all the same stuff as Draco’s old one; the mahogany desk and the strange clock and the books and the rug with the snakes on it are all present, but it doesn’t seem quite right somehow.

“It doesn’t look right,” he murmurs, mostly to himself, luxuriating in the light touch of fingertips on his skin.

“What’s the matter with it?” Draco pulls back, indignant, to meet Harry’s eyes, fingers now wrapping around Harry’s hips as though he might escape before he’s explained himself.

“I don’t know. It’s different.” Harry hesitates, reluctant to share too much of his deep-rooted need for consistency; Draco really doesn’t need to think he’s any odder than he already does.

“Change is OK,” Draco offers with a speculative smile, and Harry lifts an eyebrow.

As Draco’s thumbs hook into his trouser pockets, though, he remembers something that sparks an inspired smile. He’s been carrying it around for weeks now, and... yes.

“I’ve got an office warming gift for you... sort of,” Harry says, digging a hand into his pocket and extracting a folded-up bit of parchment.

Draco takes it from him, puzzled, and smoothes out the creases with his fingers.

‘Knock and WAIT.’



He says nothing for long seconds and then meets Harry’s eyes with a soft, pleased smirk. “You’ve been stealing from Chem Dep.”

Harry shifts impossibly closer into Draco’s warmth and shrugs. “Again, not stealing. This was yours,” he elaborates, plucking the notice from Draco’s hands and setting it down so he can lace their fingers together against the desk. “And now I’m returning it to you. And your new office.”

Draco snorts, but his eyes are full of sceptical humour and Harry knows that the choking tension has, at least for this little moment, been chased away. He releases a relieved, purifying breath and closes the short distance between them with an insistent kiss that is returned without a moment’s hesitation and tastes like all the familiarity that Harry needs.

“You just operate on a logic all of your own, don’t you?” Draco murmurs against his lips, tipping his head back and dragging Harry closer with a firm hand in his hair and another in his back pocket.

“What part of that is news to you?” Harry returns breathlessly, searching out the soft, hot slide of Draco’s tongue and wondering distractedly if he’ll ever get bored of kissing this man.

“Do you ever... shut up?” Draco manages, deepening the kiss until Harry’s attempted response is reduced to a muffled whimper sighed into his mouth.

This heat is not a violent explosion as it often is, but a steady ache that curls so slowly around them as they caress each other’s mouths that Harry is almost surprised to feel the firm press of Draco’s arousal against his thigh and it takes him a moment to register that he’s just as hard.

The faint little voice in his head insisting it’s not the time or the place is silenced; he pushes himself against Draco, mumbling his approval as those thighs part and grip around his hips, allowing them to slide cloth-covered erections together.

Draco’s breath catches and he pulls back, staring straight into Harry’s eyes, feet sliding on the rug as he leans back, his hand in Harry’s pocket gripping painfully at his arse and urging him into a slow, undulating rhythm of pressure and friction that feels so fucking good that his chest fills and hurts with the need to love and complete and give everything that is openly demanded of him by those eyes. Sharp, clever grey eyes that soften and darken like this for him. Only for him.

Mine, insists Harry’s subconscious. I love you. Mine.

Draco arches up into him with a whisper of his name that rips through Harry and encourages him deeper into their rhythm; he braces one hand against the hard grain of the desk and presses his mouth against the soft, warm skin under Draco’s ear. He doesn’t know who is the aggressor here, or if it even matters, but the sudden slash of possessiveness drives him.

For whatever reason, it drives him to make it last, and he slows, dragging a groan from Draco that he feels hot against his ear as he drags the tip of his tongue over Draco’s salty-fragrant fluttering pulse.

“Are you trying to drive me mad?”

“Maybe.” An agonising push forward, a whisper, and that pulse jumps against his mouth.

“Maybe yes,” Draco rasps, and then two things happen in quick succession.

There’s a sharp rap at the door, making them both freeze in place.

And then the door flies open, admitting Ginny, Fyzal and Marley.

“Draco, can you help us settle an argument, please?” demands Ginny. “We—oh.”

Mortified, Harry steps back from the desk, stumbling when Draco’s hand gets momentarily caught in his back pocket, flicking rapid glances between Draco, who is sitting perfectly still with his eyes closed, skin flushed, and an air of resignation, and the three barely contained expressions of glee in the doorway.

“Fuck’s sake,” is all Harry’s short-circuited brain can supply, and it definitely comes out as more of a distressed whimper than an admonishment.

“Well, almost, by the looks of it,” Fyz offers with a smirk that just makes Harry want to cover his face.

Something makes Harry look at Marley, but the dark eyes are inscrutable and the usual smirk gives nothing away, either. Ginny, for her part, has never looked so amused.

Eventually, after a good few moments of wordless snickering, Draco sighs, opens his eyes and pushes his hair out of his face. He doesn’t turn around, merely fixes Harry with weary, frustrated grey eyes and says: “Whatever it is, ask me now and then bugger off before I kill you all. Slowly.”

Marley speaks up this time, and Harry is barely listening as the enquiry is issued and tersely resolved and the three interlopers withdraw, grinning, from the office.

When the door clicks shut, Harry groans and rubs his eyes. Despite the almost painful fizz of unresolved arousal, he’s no longer tempted to finish what they started, and he pushes a stack of parchment out of the way to drop down on the desk beside Draco.

“I honestly don’t know why we bother,” Draco says crossly, folding his arms again in a gesture completely at odds with his well-shagged appearance. “Offices are clearly a bad idea.”

Harry laughs and picks up the forgotten ‘Knock and WAIT’ sign. “And that is exactly why you need this.”

Draco smiles reluctantly and glances back at his unfinished Ministry paperwork with a pained sigh. Harry thinks about the smirking faces on the other side of the door, and decides that he’ll just Apparate straight back to work from here.

**~*~**

“Seventeen,” says Romilda, as Harry walks into her room early on Sunday morning. She’s lying flat on her back and dangling the parchment right in front of her eyes. “That nurse with the purple hair thinks you have a nice bottom.”

Harry’s anxiety at the conversation he’s about to have temporarily dissolves as he takes in Romilda’s unexpected words. “Does she? How do you know?” Baffled, he perches on the end of her bed at her silent invitation and suddenly frowns. “Anyway, I hadn’t even said a word, what makes you think I’m in a bad mood?”

Romilda drops the list and turns weary eyes to his. “That’s a lot of questions.” She doesn’t—or can’t—lift her hand now but she extends fingers against the sheets as she answers each one. “Yes, she does. I know because I heard her talking to another nurse in here... it’s amazing what people will say when they think you’re unconscious. And I think you’re in a bad mood because you’ve been here all night and honestly, I’m tired just thinking about it.”

You’re always tired, Harry thinks grimly but manages a smile for her as he fiddles with the case file on his knee. This file contains all of the theories and ideas that he and Aquiline have discussed and tried and discarded over the last two weeks, as well as the treatment he’s about to pitch to Romilda. He doesn’t really need the file, he’s been over it so many times in his head that he knows the words like poetry, but he likes to have something tangible to hold onto, especially when the solution itself is so flimsy.

‘Solution’ is also probably an optimistic term for the combination of complex Containment and Energy Charms he and Aquiline have been referring to as ‘Plan B’.

Plan Buy-Us-Some-Time,” Aquiline had elaborated grimly as she paced the office. “It’s not going to fix her, but it might give us a little while longer to work on it.”

“You look terrible,” Romilda observes, dragging him out of his thoughts with a jolt. “Do you need another?” She eyes the list and Harry shakes his head.

Clive’s soft muttering from the other side of the room snatches his attention. The little boy is sprawling out on the floor and drawing a picture of what looks like himself and a familiar white not-dog.

“OK. Here’s what we want to do,” he begins, wrapping his fingers around the file as he begins to explain the theory behind Plan B.

Romilda listens carefully and nods and stays with him despite the threat of losing consciousness that constantly hovers over her. She watches as Harry pulls out his pencil and draws a rough diagram on the back of the file to show her how the spells will form a sort of net to hold the malevolent magic together.

“Do it,” she says before he’s finished, and he stops, pencil still in hand.

“It’s risky,” he admits. “We’ve never done it before.”

Those words, he’ll admit, are not very confidence inspiring, but both Aquiline and Cecile had agreed that this had to be the patient’s choice, and as such, the patient should be fully informed of the risks. Aquiline’s expertise is beyond reproach, and Harry trusts Cecile as a colleague above all others, though unsurprisingly her approach to Healing errs on the side of aggressive risk-taking.

She sighs and glances over at her son, who’s completely oblivious and absorbed in his creative task.

“I’m not stupid, Harry. Tell me what other choice I have right now.”

Harry swallows hard, just for a fleeting moment recalling Draco’s lies about not becoming attached to one’s patients. Wishing pointlessly that such detachment was a) possible or b) in his nature.

“You can wait.” He pauses. Rephrases. “You can choose to wait.”

“Wait to die? No.”

Her slow blinking is a sure sign she’s losing her grip on consciousness, but the dark eyes are lucid enough to burn. Satisfied, if that’s the best word, Harry hands her a pen and flips the file open to the relevant page.

“When?” she asks, frowning as the pen slips from her weakened fingers three times before she manages to sign her name on the line.

“First thing tomorrow.”

She nods, allowing her eyes to close. “I saw your flyer, y’know,” she murmurs as he rises from the bed and closes the file, “for your open day. Bet Clive’d love that.”

“Don’t worry, he’s invited,” Harry assures, and she smiles. “So are you. It’s still two weeks away.”

“Never know,” she mumbles, and falls silent.

Harry exhales slowly and walks out of the hushed room. Nurse Bates isn’t on shift, but he doesn’t think she’ll mind if he dips into her coffee stash before he Apparates over to the Manor. He has a nice bottom, after all.

Apparently.

**~*~**

He’s barely had time to swing by the sun-room to say hello to Narcissa and scratch Zeus’ belly, accept a cup of tea from Flimby, greet Draco and take off his coat before he starts to suspect that coming here after a sixteen-hour double shift and no sleep wasn’t the best idea he’s ever had.

In the back of his mind, someone who sounds like a disturbing hybrid of Cecile and Hermione can be heard to point out that there are plenty of contenders for that prize, and Harry’s discontent only deepens.

Standing just inside the East Wing lounge, Harry stares, sighs, and then sighs some more.

He’s already the woolly kind of tired that only lazy sex and a lot of sleep can fix, and the kind of anxious about Romilda that only Draco and his magic hands can fix, but really... that is just pushing it.

It’s Sunday. It’s Sunday morning, and open day or no open day, he can see no good reason for that to be sitting on one of Draco’s ‘wonky sofa things’, the one that forms a squashy taupe L-shape around the second fireplace, drinking tea with fucking lemon in it and reading, of all things, Harry’s copy of ‘Brown’s Healing Essentials’. The one he’d lent to Draco because he’d found it so fascinating that he’d spent two hours reading it instead of... well, just reading it.

There’s no need for that to be reading my book, Harry thinks, sipping viciously at his tea.

And he knows, watching the other man—oblivious to the eyes on him—put his booted feet up on the sofa cushions, he knows that Mephisto Marley is not a ‘that’, but he doesn’t care. He’s fed up and scared and he’s sick of the handsome Irish tosser being there every time he turns around.

He doesn’t know where Draco has disappeared to, but no matter. Harry abandons his cup on the table and stalks over to throw himself on the other end of the wonky sofa. Marley looks up, surprised.

“This your book, Wonder Boy? It’s most enlightening.” His automatic smile fades as he catches Harry’s expression. “You look exhausted. Want a cup of tea?”

Marley flicks his wand and sends the tea tray skittering toward Harry. Shaking his head, Harry groans inwardly and hopes that the odd expression in the black eyes isn’t concern.

Don’t be nice to me. I can’t stand you, his mind beseeches, and he knows it makes no sense at all.

“Why are you here?” he asks baldly, slumping against the cushions. The fact that he refrains from adding, ‘Have you no home to go to?’, he counts as a triumph.

“There are tradespeople at my new flat,” Marley confides over the top of the book. “I find them a bit disturbing, so Draco said I could hide out here while they did... whatever it is they do. Make it look pretty, hopefully.”

“Tradespeople,” Harry echoes faintly, noting the slight wrinkle of Marley’s nose. Bloody snob. “Where the hell has Draco got to?”

“He went out,” Marley says, returning his attention to the book and stretching out luxuriously on the sofa until his boots are almost in Harry’s lap.

“What do you mean he went out? Where did he go?”

“To collect those books... you know.” Marley waves a dismissive hand and doesn’t look up. “Dragon Alley, or whatever.”

Harry sits up straight and digs his nails into the soft suede cushions, hot irritation prickling behind his eyes and in the pit of his stomach. “Why didn’t he tell me?”

Marley lifts his eyes to Harry’s very slowly. “He did.”

“He fucking didn’t,” Harry says, wondering why he’s wasting his energy having this conversation and wishing he’d just gone home.

A tiny frown creases Marley’s features but Harry’s sure he doesn’t imagine the flicker of amusement as he says, “He did, Wonder Boy. I was sitting right here when he told you. He said he’d be back in half an hour, you said OK, and then you stood there for about five minutes sighing to yourself and muttering before you came over here and threw yourself down on this couch like a sack of potatoes. You might not have been listening, but I was.”

Harry stares at the stupid refined face of the man with his feet up on Draco’s sofa. Hard. If he’s honest, he can’t remember what Draco had said to him as he’d entered the lounge, and that just makes it worse.

“Good to know,” he mutters and drags himself to his feet before he can say something really rude. “’Scuse me.”

Walking quickly, he makes his way out into the grounds and stomps across the grass, thinking darkly that Evil Peacock ought to know better than to even try anything today. Nevertheless, he glances around once or twice on his path down to the pond. Just in case.

It’s a beautiful spot, especially now that the frosts have melted away with the coming Spring and the lawn is bright green and vibrant, almost right up to the edges of the water. It’s not the first time that Harry has drifted down here to think, but it is the first time that he’s... stormed off down here in a huff, he supposes. He hopes Narcissa isn’t looking out of the window.

He gulps cool, clear air and turns his face into the fresh breeze that ripples his shirt closer to his torso and lifts his dishevelled fringe from his forehead. Drops to the grass by the edge of the huge pond and sits, arms wrapped around his knees, watching the gentle shifts of silvery Ghost Koi in the water.

Resting his chin on his knees, he makes himself as small as possible and tries to separate the tangled strands of crackling, static bullshit that are making him feel like his head and heart are about to explode.

Tries, fails, and shuts his eyes. Hoping, like he used to do as a child, that doing so would make the whole world go away until he was ready to rejoin it. If ever.

“Marley said you’d be down here.”

Harry lifts his head at Draco’s even tone but doesn’t turn.

“And how would he know that?”

“I assume you’ve been here before. He doesn’t miss much,” Draco offers, drawing level with Harry but remaining upright.

Harry looks at the wet blades of grass sticking to his immaculate shoes. “He wouldn’t, would he? He practically lives here,” he snaps, far too quickly to self-censor.

“I knew you had a problem with him,” Draco says, an odd, jagged note creeping into his voice. “I knew you did. But you say everything’s fine, what am I supposed to do?”

Harry says nothing and stubbornly refuses to look up, but he can see Draco’s rippled reflection in the pond’s surface, can see him cross his arms and look down at the ground.

“I haven’t got time for this, you know,” Draco continues, strained. “Now I’ve finished all that ridiculous Ministry bureaucracy, I’m spending so much time on your friend’s fucking legal stuff that in less than two weeks I’m going to make a complete arse of myself in front of half of the luminaries of the Wizarding community, not to mention the Daily sodding Prophet who have invited themselves along, by holding an open day for a treatment centre that’s not fucking finished.”

The indirect slight against Hermione stirs Harry’s petulant apathy into fury and he scrambles to his feet, turning to face Draco.

“This isn’t Hermione’s fault—you offered to help her. And I can’t help you if you don’t fucking communicate with me, Draco! You’re a martyr, do you know that? You don’t want to be helped,” Harry retorts, breathing hard, tension cold and metallic in his mouth.

He watches Draco’s eyes flare as the accusation hits home, and for a split second Harry wants to take the words back. And then:

“As though you’re any better,” Draco shoots back. “Half the time I think you’re too frightened of upsetting me to tell me what’s bothering you!”

Stung by the raw truth of those words, Harry stands rooted to the spot, hands clenched into fists at his sides. The sudden rage in his chest halts and he drops his eyes to the trampled grass. “Well. I...” he sighs.

“What do you think I’m going to do? Why are you so afraid of making me angry? I get angry all the time, it’s not like I fly off the handle or anything,” Draco insists, face tight and arms still tightly crossed.

“No, you’re just passive fucking aggressive, and that’s much better,” Harry snipes, and god, he’s so tired. He wants to spell his own mouth shut so that this can end, and he can wrap his arms around Draco and calm both of them down. So he can just Apparate straight into their bedroom at Grimmauld Place and forget about all of this stupid crap that’s making them lash out at each other.

But when he blinks, he’s still here and so’s Draco, standing on the edge of the pond with the wind whipping up and stirring hair and clothes and tempers.

Draco uncrosses his arms, hurt and anger darkening his eyes, and shoves his hands in his pockets in a gesture that Harry absently recognises as his own.

“Oh...” Draco sighs. Glares. “Fuck off.”

And it’s possibly the least eloquent argument Draco Malfoy has ever made, but something about it snaps Harry’s frayed last nerve and before he knows what he’s doing, something supremely childish is rising up inside him and he’s reaching out with a quick palm and pushing Draco into the pond.

Grey eyes widen for half a second as their owner realises what’s happening, far too late. Cold water splashes up against Harry’s skin at the moment of impact, simultaneously bringing him to his senses and calming him to a point where he’s able to step right up to the water’s edge and chew on his lip speculatively.

The water is not particularly deep but it’s definitely cold, and he watches Draco break the surface with morbid fascination, heart hammering, knowing he’s going to be seriously pissed off.

Wading over to the edge of the pond through water that barely reaches his shoulders, Draco raises his head, folds his arms wetly and attempts to glare up at Harry, but through the dripping blond hair, he looks more like a bedraggled, disgruntled kitten trying to look frightening.

He spits out a mouthful of pond water and scowls. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Slowly, Harry crouches by the edge of the water and meets his eyes. “My hand slipped. Sorry.”

“You will be,” Draco assures him. “How old are you?!”

In spite of himself, and Draco’s wet, prickly ire, and their stupid argument, Harry’s amused. And, not that he wants to admit it, weirdly aroused.

“Old enough,” he offers, and for some reason that he’ll regret later, he smiles at Draco.

Who reaches out, grabs his shirt, and pulls hard.

As he hits the—yep, absolutely freezing cold—water almost face first, Harry’s last coherent thought is that he really should have seen it coming. And then it’s little more than fuck, cold, fuck, can’t breathe, what the hell was that against my leg?! ... until he’s struggling to his feet, hampered by waterlogged clothes and not helped by Draco one little bit, which he supposes he deserves.

He snorts water painfully from his nose and retrieves his glasses, which are miraculously floating on the surface of the pond. Swiping saturated hair from his face, he turns to regard Draco.

“Well... alright,” he manages, before his mouth twists involuntarily. “This water tastes like mildew.”

“You’d know,” Draco says, lifting an eyebrow and looking absolutely ridiculous as he pretends not to shiver. That being said, the way his thin, drenched black sweater is being plastered to his slender frame is kind of...

“Oh god, what the hell is that?” Harry jumps as something that’s definitely not Draco brushes against his calf.

“Mind my fucking fish,” Draco snaps, peering into the water at the silvery carp, who seem completely unperturbed by their presence.

“I forgot about the fish,” Harry mutters, starting to shiver. “Sorry.”

“I’m not,” Draco sniffs. “You pushed me, you psychotic wanker. You pushed me into my own pond.”

Harry sighs and wraps his arms around himself awkwardly in an attempt to preserve body heat. He’s not entirely sure which part Draco is most upset about: the pushing itself, or that fact that the act has taken place on his own property.

Either way, it doesn’t matter because Draco is still folding his arms under the surface of the water and staring at Harry with eyes that express not just indignation, but confusion and something else that Harry can’t place, but it makes him want to struggle closer and touch Draco, so he does.

“I’m still mad at you,” Draco says, but he lifts a cold, wet hand to push Harry’s hair off his forehead and doesn’t protest as arms are slipped around his waist. The icy water ripples around their upper arms and unsettles Harry’s balance; he clings to Draco, breathing, thinking, and not quite wanting to break the strange little moment just yet.

“I’m still mad at you, too,” Harry replies.

“So long as we understand each other.”

Draco’s voice is formal and oddly strained and Harry’s chest aches to hear it. He’d lied; he’s not still mad. He’s not mad at Draco, and he’s not even mad at Marley, not really. He doesn’t even care that he’s standing in a pond in the middle of February; he just wants to hold his ridiculous blond idiot until he smiles again.

Draco looks down at the water and moves closer still until they are pressed together full length and Harry can feel the tiny amount of residual heat from Draco’s body soaking through their saturated clothing and into his skin. The hand in Harry’s hair slips down to slide chilled fingertips over his jaw and Harry turns his head until his cheek is pressed into Draco’s palm, warming it.

“I’m hallucinating, aren’t I?” Draco looks up at last, one grey eye visible through the bedraggled hair. “I’m not really standing in the middle of my fishpond. I can’t be.”

Harry can’t help the tiny smile or the relief that corkscrews inside his ribcage when Draco returns it, looking like he doesn’t really want to.

“I’d take ‘I can’t be’ as a challenge, but you’re already standing in your fishpond, and so am I, so...” Harry shrugs and rakes water-darkened blond hair from Draco’s eyes, dripping pond-water all down his face as he does so. Draco says nothing, but shivers. His hot breath is a caress against Harry’s wet skin.

“I’m so fucking cold,” Draco whispers, but brushes his mouth against Harry’s in an impulsive kiss.

Harry’s sharp, surprised inhalation is lost to the deep, reclaiming exploration of his mouth, and within seconds he’s forgotten about the cold water and the brushes of far-too-bold fish around his knees. Draco’s fingers grip the back of his neck tightly and Harry throws himself open to the onslaught, eagerly accepting the cold lips against his and contrast of intense heat that mingles with his in unspoken reconciliation.

Cold noses rub briefly against each other as they withdraw, and then Draco is taking an unsteady step backwards, toward the edge of the pond.

“I don’t like asking for help,” he says obliquely.

“You don’t say,” Harry mutters under his breath, still off-balance from the strangest kiss in his recent memory, as he watches Draco haul himself, dripping, onto the grass on his hands and knees. The drenched black fabric of his sweater and trousers moulds flush to his body and Harry absently admires the strong, lean frame for a moment or two before shaking himself and wading over to the edge of the pond.

To his astonishment, Draco offers him a hand and he takes it, flopping down onto the lawn, flat on his back. After a moment’s indecision, Draco sighs heavily and flops down beside him. The midday sun is gently warming now, but it doesn’t stop Harry from shivering, and he can hear the slight tremulous hitching of Draco’s breath in the peaceful silence.

“I don’t mind helping her,” Draco says at last.

Harry doesn’t look away from the pale blue sky. “Hermione?”

“Yes. I just need more hours in the day.”

“I know the feeling,” Harry admits. Tentatively, he slides a hand over the soft grass and smiles when damp fingers tangle with his.

“That’s why I don’t ask you to help me. You have enough to do.”

“And because you don’t like to ask for help,” Harry presses gently.

“That as well,” Draco concedes, folding his free arm behind his head. “And I know Marley’s a pain in the backside sometimes but I think he actually likes you.”

Disbelief floods Harry and prompts a loud snort. “Right.”

The urge to blurt out something stupid like, ‘But he hexed me,’ or ‘I’m scared you like him better than you like me’ claws at Harry but he draws on his self-control and reins in the childish whine before it can escape.

“I know he’s got a funny way of showing it,” Draco adds.

There’s a weary hopefulness in Draco’s voice, and it’s that rather than the statement itself—which is perhaps the understatement of the year—that urges Harry to grip those cold fingers tight, meet hopelessly sincere grey eyes for long, careful seconds, and then gaze back at the clear sky, feeling lighter.

“OK.” OK, he’s going to give Marley another chance. For Draco.

“Did you talk to her?” Draco asks, and Harry frowns, puzzled, before realising he’s talking about Plan B.

“Yeah.”

“Did she...?”

“Yeah.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

There’s a long silence. Harry swallows hard, tasting bitter pond water at the back of his throat.

“Don’t doubt yourself,” Draco says eventually, and the rub of wet string over the inside of Harry’s wrist stems his hot flood of anxiety.

Harry nods. His wet clothes are clammy and uncomfortable now, and there are blades of grass prickling at his bare back where his shirt is riding up. And he’s freezing. But he doesn’t really want to move; he hasn’t felt so calm in far too long, and discomfort is surely a small price to pay.

“I’m going to be late for Sunday lunch,” he sighs regretfully.

Draco grips his cold, wet hand and continues to stare at the sky. He shivers. “Good.”

**~*~**

By the time he does make it to the Burrow, he is late.

Lunch is over, but Molly’s admonishments falter in her throat as she lays concerned eyes upon Harry’s damp, dishevelled and somewhat muddy person.

“Good heavens, Harry, what happened to you? Are you alright?” Pausing in her expert levitation of dirty dishes from table to sink, Molly bustles to his side and grasps his arm. Anxious eyes sweep over Harry’s face, demanding a response, and a good one at that.

“I’m fine, Molly, don’t worry.” Harry fights a smile. “I, erm... got a bit too close to a fishpond. It’s a long story. Sorry I’m so late,” he adds hurriedly, glancing at the remains of the roast.

“You’re going to catch cold,” she reproves, neatly sidestepping the fishpond issue. “Stay right there and I’ll sort you out a plate of dinner, and then what you need is...”

Harry attempts a reassuring smile as she talks, mostly to herself, and moves around the kitchen assembling a huge plate of food. After what seems like a very long time, he steps, still nodding mutely, into the back garden with his plate. He has refused Molly’s offer of clean clothes and a Drying Charm, but accepted the fluffy towel which now drapes over his head as he approaches the patio table containing his friends.

Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny are grouped around the circular table, staving off the crispness of the bright February afternoon with mugs of hot tea and what feels like one of Hermione’s trademark Warming Charms. Their laughter and chatter is laid-back, and they all look up to greet and make room for Harry around the table as he sits, sets down his plate and scrubs at his hair with the towel.

Despite one or two curious glances, Harry is allowed to eat most of his late lunch in peace while Neville finishes telling Hermione and Ron a story that Harry surmises is about a spectacularly gormless customer, a Venomous Tentacula and a tin of paint.

Finally, though, Harry looks up from his last two roast potatoes to find himself the focus of eight enquiring eyes, four blue and four brown.

“Just ask,” Harry advises, dragging the towel off his head and ruffling still-damp hair with his fingers.

For a moment, no one says a word, and then Neville clears his throat.

“I will,” he offers bravely, drumming fingers on the tabletop. “Why are you all wet?”

“And where have you been?” adds Ginny, leaning forward.

“And that as well, but I’m more curious about the wet thing,” Nev admits.

Ron gulps noisily at his tea. “I’ll give each of you ten Galleons if it’s nothing to do with Malfoy.”

Harry gnaws on his thumbnail and looks around the table at his friends’ expectant faces, wondering if he’ll ever persuade Draco to brave Weasley Sunday Lunches and what exactly might happen if he does.

“You can keep your money, Ron,” he begins, eliciting a triumphant and yet resigned nod from his best friend. “It’s like this...”

When Harry’s related the—heavily edited—version of events, he falls silent and runs his finger around the edge of his plate, collecting leftover smudges of Molly’s excellent gravy and lifting them to his mouth.

“Men,” Hermione sighs after a moment, sounding utterly exasperated.

“Mm,” Ginny agrees.

Harry and Ron’s simultaneous protests fill the air not a second later: “Hey!” and “What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Neville politically says nothing and continues to drink his tea.

“Oh, whatever,” Hermione waves a dismissive hand. “It’s just... you’re a qualified Healer and he’s about to open his own rehab... you’re both intelligent, accomplished adults. And yet you solve your arguments by pushing each other into lakes? I just... men,” she repeats.

“It was a pond,” Harry mumbles moodily.

“What?”

“It was a pond, not a lake.” He meets Hermione’s eyes and dares her to dismiss this vital, relevant piece of information. He also tries to pretend that Neville isn’t concealing laughter beside him.

“Well, that’s alright then.” Ginny smirks, blue eyes glowing with amusement. “If you’re twelve,” she adds, and Harry groans.

He pushes his plate away and props his weary head up in his hands. To his consternation, something in that pond water is making his hair feel crunchy as it dries. “Yeah, well. Sometimes he drives me fucking mad.”

“Sometimes?” Hermione echoes, dubious.

“You know what I mean. It’s like... he doesn’t need a partner, he needs a fucking Legilimens.”

“That bad?” Hermione prompts, and Harry notices that everyone else has fallen silent, presumably leaving the semi-serious stuff to the person who has, by her own admission, read every self-help title stocked by Flourish and Blotts, including the ones aimed at gay men.

“Don’t you see it? You spend enough time with him,” Harry offers, attempting to pull a strand of crunchy hair close enough to his nose to sniff at it.

Hermione wraps both hands around her steaming mug and wrinkles her brow in deep thought. “Well, I don’t know. He can be a little bit oblique, can’t he?”

“Meaning...?”

“I mean... that he doesn’t always communicate in the most obvious way. The other day, for example, we were having lunch and I told him that I thought we made a good team, and I really appreciated all his hard work on the reform project,” Hermione says, and Harry nods, with her so far. “Now, a normal person would say ‘You’re welcome’. Draco stared at me for a good ten seconds, then gave me half of his dessert and asked me if I thought plastic paperclips were better than metal ones. You have to sort of... interpret him, don’t you?”

Harry regards his friend’s earnest face and laughs softly, dropping his head into his hands. It’s a distinct possibility, he realises in that moment, that the man he loves is completely barking. Which surely means he must be, too.

“Still, it’s no excuse for solving your disputes like a couple of teenagers,” Hermione continues, prodding Harry under the table with her foot.

“What should they have done?” Ron wonders aloud, and Harry suspects he's going to pay for that later.

“Talked,” Hermione says slowly, spearing him with a look that Harry can fully imagine without having to glance up.

“We did talk,” Harry protests into his hands.

“Mmhm. But how much time was spent actually talking, and how much time was spent doing things for which talking is used as a euphemism?” Hermione’s tone is deceptively sweet and Harry raises his head to look at her.

Beside Harry, Neville is hiding his smile behind his hand, and across the table, Ron's ears turn pink. Ginny snickers and holds out an approving hand for Hermione to shake.

“When you've all quite finished... it was about half and half,” Harry says with as much dignity as he can muster, and the snorts of amusement from the other four absolutely do not make him blush.

“Draco doesn't really do talking about feelings, anyway,” advises Ginny.

“Maybe it's because he’s an only child,” Ron offers unexpectedly.

Harry is impressed at this show of insight for a moment before realisation dawns and suddenly he, Nev and Hermione are registering their protests and insisting that they, as only children, certainly know how to talk to their loved ones.

Even if Harry has definite doubts in his own case.

“Some people are better with actions than words,” Neville says.

Some people need to learn to communicate,” Hermione adds darkly.

“Hey... when did this turn from 'why is Harry wet' to 'let's all analyse Harry's relationship'?” Harry wants to know, slightly stung. He blinks. “And thanks, Nev. I agree.”

“It’s better than talking about who would win in a duel between Kingsley Shacklebolt and Steve McFlea,” Ginny says, exchanging a weary glance with Hermione.

“Steve McQueen,” Ron corrects, the exasperated sigh lifting his red fringe clear of his forehead. “And I said a fight, not a duel. Steve McQueen didn’t have a wand.”

Something in Ron’s face, something in the good-natured, insignificant seriousness of the expression, pushes Harry’s stress into a tiny corner of his mind. Mischief sparks somewhere low down and Harry lifts an eyebrow at his friend across the table.

“What if he did have a wand?”

Ginny’s head hits the table and Hermione pats her hair absently.

“That’s assuming he’d know what to do with it,” Neville points out.

“Now you’re talking.” Ron grins and leans forward on his elbows, picking up Harry’s fork and waving it in the air. “Right, so if this is Kingsley...”

**~*~**

Harry returns to a dark, silent house. Though it’s dark outside, it’s barely nine thirty in the evening and he wonders where Draco can be. Tired and uncomfortable and still a bit damp, Harry frowns. The living room and kitchen are both empty, save for the smell of toast and an unlaced pair of shoes sitting next to the sofa.

“Draco?” he calls ahead as he drags himself up the stairs and along the landing, but there’s no answer.

He can’t help thinking that actually, if Draco has gone to bed without him, it’s sort of a good sign; he must feel pretty comfortable and... stuff. Harry thinks it’s been far too long since he last slept, and he also thinks that particular sentiment is becoming all too familiar.

Anyway. He rubs his eyes, yawns, and grabs the door handle, musing blurrily. They haven’t talked more about the drawer and its inevitable significance, but Harry knows there are now several pairs of trousers, boxers, and socks in there, as well as an array of pastel and dark-coloured sweaters and assorted bits and pieces that only Draco understands.

He also knows that what he thinks of as Draco’s wet-dream overcoat is hanging in his wardrobe, and he knows this because he has tried it on in front of the mirror and concluded that unfortunately, he can’t pull it off.

He steps into the room and the soft blue light from his crackle-glass sphere immediately soothes his tired eyes. Draco is lying on top of the sheets with his head at the foot of the bed, his long, bare legs sprawled out across the pale linen, and his eyes closed. He’s wearing his usual white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, arms stretched out at his sides in beautiful abandon and relaxed fingers curled ever-so-slightly toward his palms.

Harry stares, dry-mouthed, fighting the feeling that he’s intruding in his own bedroom; he knows it’s silly but he’s never seen Draco so unguarded and he can’t decide whether to admire him or love him or protect him but whichever way, it’s as though a tiny sharp seed is being pressed into his heart, forcing everything to swell and hurt and ache around it.

And he’s only lying there, Harry reasons from the doorway, but his eyes are closed and his breathing is soft and his hair is shiny and glowing almost silver in the blue light. That light is soft but does not forgive the many marks on Draco’s skin or the faint, pale stubble on his chin. Not perfect. Thank god.

Taking one step into the room, Harry smiles as grey eyes open and Draco’s nose wrinkles.

“No,” he says flatly as Harry approaches the bed, and his heart sinks. “You smell like pond. And fish.”

Harry has to concede that point, because even his average nose can pick out the mildewy smell of his skin and clothes. Draco doesn’t move an inch, and Harry itches to touch him. “And when I don’t?”

Draco smiles and closes his eyes again. “When you don’t, you can come to bed.”

And even though it’s not even ten o’clock yet, and it’s his bed, and once again he’s essentially being bossed around by a Malfoy, Harry hastens to comply. He leaves his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, turns the squeaky dial in the shower to the hottest setting and scrubs himself all over, using a generous amount of Draco’s fancy citrus-scented shampoo to cleanse the mysterious crunchiness out of his hair.

In a cloud of fragrant steam and a towel, Harry drifts back into the bedroom to find that Draco has not moved from his decadent sprawl. Warm and clean and sleepy, he’s drifting in a delicious haze and could quite easily crawl between the sheets and pull Draco with him, but something about the day they’ve had makes him want to take just... something from this moment of fragile calm to keep with him.

Silently, he kneels by the foot of the bed and looks down at the pale eyelids and lashes until a water droplet splashes from his dripping hair onto Draco’s skin and those eyes snap open. Slate warms to pewter as Draco regards him upside down, the rest of his face expressionless. Not that it matters; those eyes always tell him what Draco can’t say.

“That better?”

“You smell like me,” Draco observes.

“Better than pond and fish,” Harry whispers, reaching out and sliding his hands up Draco’s arms to his shoulders, damp palms dragging on smooth skin and soft cotton.

“Goes without saying.”

Goes without saying, Harry thinks absently, should be Draco’s motto.

The flickering blue light illuminates the brief flash of a smile and Harry suddenly has, right in front of him, what he’s craved all day. Carefully, and with a tenderness that surprises him, he reaches out and cradles Draco’s chin, tipping his head back and leaning down, dripping hair and all, to fit their mouths together in a slow, upside-down kiss.

The last thing he sees before he closes his eyes is the slide of blond strands across Draco’s forehead as he lifts and arches against Harry’s mouth. The angle is different and a little messy but not without merit, drawing a satisfied sound from both as lazy tongues flick together and bottom lips are enclosed and caressed at the same time.

For once, Harry doesn’t know what he wants. His energy is somewhere on the floor with his discarded clothes, but he doesn’t want to stop.

So he doesn’t.

Pausing to lick warm shower-water from their lips, Harry once more dips into the hot mouth below his. He slides his free hand onto Draco’s chest, fingers splayed over the strong, erratic heartbeat and immediately covered and held in place by a cool palm.

His thumb strokes under Draco’s swollen lower lip and drags over saliva-slick points of fine stubble, not needing to demand the contact of Draco’s mouth but doing so anyway, each smothered sigh and caught breath a balm against insecurities stretched thin and painful.

He kisses Draco until he’s trembling and opening his eyes. Demanding more in a harsh whisper and submitting to only a minute or so of further unhurried kissing before he’s rolling onto one side, hair everywhere and eyes burning. He hauls Harry onto the bed by his wrist, forcing him to scramble on his knees over the sheets to align their bodies, and immediately he reaches out for Draco’s mouth, mumbling his hazy approval as a hand encloses both of them and all he has to do is keep breathing.

Harry’s arousal is a slow, languorous hum in his veins, and the force of his release takes him by surprise; he spills himself with a gasp and a shudder over Draco’s hand and forces his eyes open just in time to watch Draco’s eyes as he loses control seconds later.

“You’re a horrible tease,” Draco whispers, as soon as he gets his breath back.

“No... I just like kissing you.”

“Sap,” Draco insists, with as much derision as he can muster. Which, Harry thinks, is not very much at all, considering the sleepy half-smile and the fingers tracing patterns on Harry’s bare hip.

As soon as they curl together under the sheets—the right way up—Harry feels the heavy comfort of sleep at last begin to claim him.

“He’s gone home now, you know,” Draco offers into the back of Harry’s neck.

“Hmm?”

“Marley. He’s afraid of the painter and decorator. You’ve got to feel for someone who’s afraid of a man with a paintbrush and a regional accent.”

Harry smiles against his pillow. “’Night, Draco.”

**~*~**

The next morning, with Aquiline’s permission, Harry takes Clive over to the Manor before nine am. They have both agreed that it’s best if he’s not there during the experimental treatment; even though he’s too young to understand the specifics of what’s going on, the little boy has a tendency to pick up on distress and Harry thinks it’s far better for all concerned if he spends the morning with Narcissa and Zeus.

Mrs Malfoy accepts this proposal with what Harry suspects is eagerness, but it’s difficult to tell with her. Flimby is summoned and, as Harry leaves, he watches the blonde woman, the little boy and the rebellious not-dog sharing an impressive Continental breakfast, the likes of which Clive has never before seen if his wide eyes and stacked plate are anything to go by.

Aquiline’s permission and a last-minute pep talk are about all Harry gets out of his in-demand mentor before she disappears into yet another meeting. She makes a fair point when she reminds Harry that the spells he’s planning to cast are well within his abilities, and she’s also uncomfortably close to the truth when she suggests that the reason Harry is so nervous about the whole thing is that he’s had almost two months as Romilda’s Healer and he’s perhaps a little too invested in the outcome.

When Harry enters her room accompanied by Nurse Bates, Romilda is sleeping. She looks peaceful, fingers curled around the sheets and hair spilling over her face, and not only that, she doesn’t need to be awake for this, so Harry makes the call to leave her be.

Congelo Sedo, cast and hold,” Harry instructs, turning to the nurse and she nods, wand drawn. “Please,” he adds after a moment, and she smiles.

As soon as the stasis is in place and Nurse Bates’ face is set in concentration, Harry does one last mental run-through of his casting sequence.

Don’t doubt yourself,’ Draco’s words echo inside his head, and Harry glances down at his wrist.

“OK. Here we go, then,” he mutters to himself and sets to work.

**~*~**

Having completed the sequence and run his usual diagnostics twice over, just to check, Harry is encouraged that the spells are holding and allows himself to concentrate on his other patients. He plans to check back on Romilda as soon as morning rounds are completed, by which time he hopes she will be awake and able to tell him how she feels.

In the meantime, Nurse Bates has offered to check on her from time to time. Kelly’s level of enthusiasm and gratitude to have been allowed to assist with ‘proper Healer stuff’ is humbling, and Harry is almost able to forget anything she may or may not think about his backside.

“I know it hurts, Mrs Moore, but if you can stay very still, I’ll be finished a lot quicker,” Harry advises his patient, as she twitches away from the healing but stinging touch of his wand. His brisk tone belies the inward wince that comes with each touch to her raw skin; he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to causing pain, even when it’s all for the patient’s own good.

“Sorry... Healer.” She grits her teeth and stills with some effort. “I’m trying.”

“I know,” he soothes. “Nearly done.”

“Where do... these people learn... Dark spells?” she rasps, eyes tight shut. “In my day... in my day if you wanted to rob a shop you’d just... Incarcerous and a... M-memory Charm.”

Harry pauses for a moment and she opens one bloodshot eye. She’s trying to joke with him. Fucking hell. Admiration for the old battleaxe rises and Harry smiles at her as he attempts to finish the work as quickly as possible.

“Dark magic is everywhere, I’m afraid.” Harry inhales the stale-sweat-pine-soft air of the ward, pensive. “At least we can—”

“Sorry to interrupt, Healer Potter,” cuts in Nurse Bates from the door.

Conscious of Mrs Moore’s discomfort, Harry doesn’t stop healing the lesions in her skin but addresses the nurse without looking up. “What’s the matter?”

“There’s something wrong,” she says, voice strained. “You need to examine Ms Vane as soon as you’ve got a minute, I just...” she trails off, clearly not wanting to say any more in front of another patient, and cold dread makes his heart hammer against his ribcage.

“Did you run the diagnostic sequence I showed you?” Harry asks, keeping his voice even with a massive effort, and focusing hard on the task in front of him. He can’t leave in the middle of this, much as he wants to right now.

“Yes. Healer, I think the progression has been, um... encouraged.”

Mrs Moore’s squirming is almost non-existent and she’s looking at Kelly over Harry’s shoulder with interest. Horrified, Harry manages to heal the last two wounds in record time. He turns.

“Are you saying I’ve speeded it up?”

Kelly nods, anguished.

“Oh.” Harry scrubs a hand over his face, fingers just about keeping in the ‘Oh, fuck’ that rises up in his throat. “Would you excuse me, Mrs Moore? I’ll make sure someone comes back and checks on you very soon...”

He doesn’t catch the affirmative response but is out into the corridor and slamming into Romilda’s room before he knows what he’s doing. She’s still unconscious and looks otherwise perfectly fine, but as he furiously casts the well-worn charms he realises with a sickening jolt that the deterioration has indeed accelerated alarmingly and is continuing to do so.

“Can you get Healer Aquiline?” Harry asks the nurse in desperation.

She said she was busy this morning, but she also said he should fetch her if he needed her, and this definitely qualifies.

As he waits, fingers clenched around the cold metal of the foot-board, all he can think is that he did this. It’s his fault. She was... well, she wasn’t fine, but she was hanging on, until he came in with his experimental spells and now...

Harry stares at the flickering fields he’s cast around her motionless body. She’s dying.

Aquiline appears minutes later looking harassed but businesslike, and she fixes Harry with a steady, dark stare that reminds him to breathe.

Within seconds, she has assessed the situation and turned her eyes to Harry. “It appears that the curse itself has reacted unexpectedly to part of the treatment.” She pauses, and when she speaks again, her words are pointed and deliberate. “This was the risk we took, Healer Potter. All of us. You and I, Nurse Bates, and the patient. Do you remember what I said to you about taking risks?”

Harry forces himself to hold eye contact and grips his wand tightly. “That I won’t always get it right?”

“Yes. But this was not one of these times. Your choice was the correct one—even though you could not save your patient, you were giving her a fighting chance.”

Throat constricted, Harry nods, not really hearing the words. He turns to watch the blue energy field as it twists and fades, and still she does not wake. She’s dying. Kelly had suspected it, he had known it, and now Aquiline is confirming it but telling him it’s not his fault. Harry finds that impossible to swallow; all he can see is the shadow of this horrible, twisted, desiccating curse racing down upon a person who’s far too young to die, and there’s nothing, fucking nothing he can do to get her out of the way.

Unless there is.

“Healer Aquiline, do you think we could try some...” Harry falls silent at her quelling expression.


“We have no known counter-curses. She has hours, that’s all. She may have some conscious time left... I’d advise you not to waste it submitting her to pointless treatments.”

“OK. God, I... alright.” Harry nods briskly, hoping the stern Healer cannot see the way his hands are balled into painful fists beneath the cover of his long green sleeves. “I just... I thought this would work or not work, I suppose. I didn’t think my treatment would...” he sighs.

Aquiline’s eyes soften momentarily as she glances over at Romilda and then back to Harry. “The Dark Arts are, by nature, unpredictable. We don’t always win. I believe that you did your best, Healer. I’m sorry about your patient. Truly.”

“Thank you,” he manages, and then with a final incline of the dark head, she’s gone.

“Where’s her son?” Kelly asks suddenly.

Stomach turning over, Harry glances at her; she’s still hanging back in the doorway, purple streaks glowing under the harsh lighting.

Clive. Fucking hell.

“He’s... I’m going to go and get him,” Harry replies and Disapparates on the spot.

**~*~**

He wavers for a moment outside the gate, having chosen Apparation on instinct, but wondering now if he should save ten minutes by Apparating back to the hospital and using the Floo, but then the gates slide open without a word and Harry makes a snap decision. He sets out down the drive at a brisk stomp and the cold wind whips through his hair and flaps his robes around his legs.

Sadness, disappointment and frustration combine to create this hard ball in his stomach and just this once, he wishes he had something to kick. He tells himself he was listening to Aquiline’s words, at least he heard them, even if they didn’t register, but he’s still fucking furious with himself. He’s lost patients before, but not like this. Not because of something he’s done.

“Fuck it,” he spits into the cold air of the empty grounds. “Fuck it... god!”

When he spies the slink of blue and green feathers in the middle distance, his heart lifts.

Come on then, he thinks, hands in pockets and head down. Come on. Just give me an excuse.

But his foot doesn’t connect with Evil Peacock because, for reasons that Harry can’t explain, the spiteful little bugger doesn’t make any attempt to approach him. The off-kilter crest bobs as the bird tips its head on one side and regards Harry from across the lawn with tiny black eyes, but Evil Peacock stays exactly where he is, and it doesn’t matter how many times Harry looks over his shoulder, he doesn’t move from the spot.

Harry shakes his head, and it hurts. Scowling, he makes for the front of the house, where he’s dismayed to see Fyzal, Marley and Draco standing out on the front steps. Fyz is smoking a cigarette and flinging his arms out to the sides in some kind of demonstration, Marley is laughing and prodding Draco in the ribs, and Draco is folding his arms and shaking his head, which is reassuring in its own little way.

Marley sees him first. He rakes a hand through his shiny hair and grins. Until he notices Harry’s expression.

“Wow, who died?”

Harry closes his eyes briefly and when he opens them again, Draco has stepped closer and is searching his face intently, concern written all over his sharp features.

“Marley, don’t be a prick,” interrupts Fyz, grabbing the younger man’s sleeve. “Someone probably did die,” he adds helpfully, before shooting Harry a look and dragging a cringing Marley inside the house.

Harry watches them numbly, almost amused that Fyz, within weeks of meeting Marley, has managed to adopt this pseudo-parental role, even though Harry doubts if he has even five years on Marley.

“It didn’t work,” Draco surmises, keeping a careful, respectful distance. He leans against his favourite pillar and gazes at Harry. Waiting.

“No,” Harry chokes, feeling silly and small and suddenly like he’s trying not to cry in front of Draco. “It didn’t. I made it worse. There’s nothing... I need to get Clive now.”

Because he’s a professional. Not a very good one, apparently, but all the same. And his patient deserves to hold her son before... Harry swallows hard.

“Harry,” Draco says, voice low.

Harry blinks hotly and watches Draco push a hand through his hair, and then reach out for a fraction of a second, dropping the outstretched hand to his side, grey eyes uncertain.

“I need to...” Harry points vaguely at the front doors.

Suddenly, Draco’s expression snaps from hesitation to exasperation and he wraps cold fingers around Harry’s wrist, draws him close without a word and leans back against the pillar with Harry pulled tightly against him. Harry protests against the strong arms wrapping around him for all of five seconds before he acquiesces and drops his head to Draco’s shoulder, exhaling hard against the pale fabric and inhaling the comforting scent.

“Don’t say anything,” Harry pleads, and it’s almost a whisper. He doesn’t want to hear any reassuring words, were Draco inclined to begin offering them.

“What makes you think there’s anything I could say?” Draco murmurs against his ear and holds him tighter.

“Just for a minute, then,” he mumbles into warm cashmere, guilt-flooded even as he allows Draco to comfort him. The wind lifts his hair and stings his skin as it slants into the portico. Harsh.

“That’s all you’re getting, anyway. I don’t want my staff thinking I’ve gone soft.”

Harry laughs, and it hurts. He braces one hand against the cool stone and seeks out warm skin with the other.

Just one more minute.

**~*~**

“You’re back soon, is my mummy better?” Clive asks, looking up from his spot on Narcissa’s knee, picture book forgotten, when he spots Harry.

Harry stands frozen to the spot as every word in existence flies out of his head, perhaps never to return. In desperation, he catches Narcissa’s eyes over the top of Clive’s head, and silently pleads for help. Ice blue eyes widen in horror as the message hits home.

“When?” she whispers.

“Soon.”

Narcissa smoothes the fine hair with gentle fingers. “Your mother needs to see you,” she says simply.

After a moment, Clive seems to nod his assent, and he climbs down to the floor, allowing Harry to scoop him up easily.

“Thank you.”

Narcissa inclines her head. Her sudden words stop Harry at the door. “Don’t—don’t lie to him. Mr Potter,” she adds, and then falls silent.

Harry nods and leaves as quickly as possible, striding through the twisting corridors and out into the grounds. He crunches down the gravel path with Clive in his arms, head spinning.

“Is she better, Harry?” he asks again.

Harry sighs. He doesn’t know how to talk to a child about death. Having seen an obscene number of people die in his relatively short life has done nothing to prepare him for the innocent question of a four-year-old boy who’s worried about his mummy.

Don’t lie. Keep walking.

“No, Clive, I’m afraid she’s not. She’s very ill and she needs you to be with her right now,” he says.

Clive says nothing, but he turns his face into the shoulder of Harry’s robes and takes small, snuffly breaths.

As the wind rips his face raw and threatens to blow his glasses off, Harry feels tempted to join him.

**~*~**

She doesn’t cry when he tells her.

As Aquiline had predicted, Romilda does indeed regain consciousness halfway through the afternoon. He manages to pry a silent, clingy Clive away from her long enough to explain, haltingly, what has happened. That they have even used reverse-diagnostics to work out exactly which part of the original tangle of spells caused the reaction, though she waves away his pointless information, asks him how long, and then doesn’t speak for a long time.

Eventually, he returns to his other patients, throwing himself into his work. Avoiding Kelly’s sympathetic glances and accepting her endless cups of good, hot coffee.

“I’m sorry, Romilda,” he keeps saying. Can’t seem to stop saying it, in fact.

Funny, those words. ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s what you’re supposed to say when someone’s loved one has died, or when you’re just plain out of options. ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.’ Harry’s said that countless times before, but this is perhaps the first time he’s meant it as an atonement as well as an expression of professional sympathy.

It’s my fault, he wants to say. I’m sorry, Romilda. It’s my fault. But he knows better than that. They had spent almost an entire day during their first week with the St Mungo’s legal team, learning that above all else, Healers must never say ‘It’s my fault’ to their patients.

He doesn’t know if she blames him or not; she did sign the bit of parchment, after all. But he gave it to her, and he made it sound like a good idea. She trusted him. People always trust him, that’s the problem, Harry thinks. It’s with a mammoth effort that he pushes away the images of those lost in the war, those he tells himself could have been saved.

This, he tells himself firmly, is not the same. And even if it were, self-flagellation is hardly going to help.

When his shift ends, Harry hesitates only for a moment before slipping back into the room. Dragging his heavy robes over his head, he conjures a chair for himself and settles in it in his scruffy black trousers and thin t-shirt. Almost without thinking, he starts casting diagnostics and energy fields as he has done so many times before, and the familiar colours and scents are comforting.

“You still here?”

He startles, looking into pained dark eyes as they blink open. “I’m not leaving you.”

“You’re going to sit there until I die?” she says baldly, resting a possessive hand on Clive’s head as he, quite miraculously, appears to be sleeping.

“If you want to put it like that.”

She attempts a snort and then flickers out again. Harry leans back in his chair and fiddles with the string around his wrist, his own breathing seeming inappropriately loud in the small room.

After half an hour or so, Kelly pads into the room and hands Harry a fresh cup of coffee in silence. She looks at the sleeping pair and at Harry’s crumpled robes on the floor beside him.

“Because there’s no one else to wait,” he says, answering her unvoiced question and lifting his head to meet her eyes through the coffee steam.

“You... you’re a good person, Harry,” she says eventually, and it’s the first time she’s dropped the formal address, even though he’s asked her to on repeated occasions.

She leaves the room before he can respond.

“He said he wanted... he said he wanted us to grow old together.” Harry looks up as the sudden words and their chilling meaning hit home. “And I wanted to have a life, so I left. I suppose he sort of got his way.”

“You’ve got to tell me his name, Romilda. What if he does this to someone else?”

She sighs and stares at him for a long time before she gives in and supplies a name Harry has never heard before; he scribbles it on a bit of parchment and stuffs it in his pocket. Ron will know who to give it to, and Harry knows he’ll be happy to use his influence as a head of division to speed things along.

When Clive snuffles awake, she lifts her head slightly and murmurs to him for a long time. Harry stares out of the window into the black night and feels like an intruder, but she doesn’t ask him to go, nor does he really want to.

As he glances around the room, his eyes fall on two glossy brochures sitting on top of the bedside cabinet. They’ve been turned face down, away from curious little eyes, but Harry can read the upside-down writing on the spines well enough. They’re Ministry publications—guides to children’s homes and the adoption system. Harry’s gut twists at the realisation that, if she’s been doing research or making arrangements, she knew this was coming.

“Do you know how much I love you?” she whispers to her son, and Harry closes his eyes. Outside, the rain begins to fall.

It’s after nine by the time Kelly reappears to tell Harry that she’s going off shift and to ask him if he needs anything. He doesn’t, but at Romilda’s slurred request, she holds out her hand to Clive and takes him down the corridor to the bathroom.

He pulls his chair a little closer to the bed and suddenly she’s gripping his wrist with a strength she hasn’t had for weeks, and staring fiercely into his eyes.

“You didn’t have any parents, did you? They died, didn’t they?”

Heart pounding, Harry can’t look away from her. “Erm, yeah, they did.”

“So you understand... it’s important. Harry...” She pauses, eyes burning, and then says something entirely unexpected: “Promise me you’ll find a home for Clive.”

“What?” Harry gapes. “I—”

She shakes her head against the pillow and those fingers only grip tighter. “Promise me. I know you have an important job, I’m not asking you to do it yourself, but I don’t know what else to do. Please. Promise me you’ll find him somewhere safe and comfortable to grow up, people that’ll love him. Promise me. Now.”

Harry swallows dryly, caught up in guilt and panic and the desperation in his patient’s eyes. “If I can only...”

“Say, ‘I promise, Romilda’.”

The field around her glows intensely bright and Harry thinks his heart might explode. “I promise, Romilda,” he whispers.

“I knew I could count on you,” she mumbles with the ghost of a smile, and the bright field flickers and fades. Her eyes fall closed and the grip on Harry’s arm falls away, leaving behind a warm, tight feeling around his wrist. When he glances down at it, there’s a thin band of skin that’s much paler than the rest, and that definitely hadn’t been there before.

He doesn’t have much time to think about it, though; the light is almost gone.

Harry leaps out of his chair, wand drawn. It’s pure instinct by now to cast Ennervate, even though he knows it’s no good. The glowing magical field that had been lighting the room dissolves completely, and he knows it’s over.

Slowly, feeling heavy, he casts Tempus and gazes at the shimmering numbers as they light the face of a woman who once wanted him to fall in love with her. Silent. Still.

“Time of death,” he says to the room. “Twenty-one sixteen.”

Chapter Text

Harry doesn’t know how long he stands in the silent, darkened room, but when the glow from his Tempus fades away, he blinks and glances over at the closed door. It’s only the cold realisation that Kelly and Clive will be returning any moment that stirs him into action, and he carefully covers Romilda’s motionless body with a sheet, heart heavy.

As he withdraws, the pale line at his wrist catches his attention once more and he examines it, a slow but sure tide of panic rising inside him. The pale band encircles his wrist in an unbroken circle perhaps a quarter of an inch thick, and sits just below the bleached string bracelet like some surreal parody of the one thing he finds most comforting when he’s not with Draco.

Whatever it is, it can’t be good. Perhaps something Dark, even. Oh, fuck. For the thousandth time, Harry curses his impulsiveness and tries to fight down his mounting alarm. Aquiline will know what to do, or at least he really hopes she will.

Dragging in a deep breath, Harry crosses to the doorway and darts out into the corridor. He’s flooded with relief to see Kelly at the other end of it, standing outside the bathroom where she’s apparently still waiting for Clive.

“Can you just give me five more minutes? That’s all, I promise, and then I’ll be back, and don’t go in that room until I am,” Harry says all in one breath, jogging over to her and then shifting in place with obvious impatience.

Kelly’s eyes widen with sudden comprehension. “Where are you going?”

“I need to ask Aquiline something, if she’s still here,” Harry admits, trying not to look at his wrist. “Please, Kelly, you don’t have to tell him anything. I’ll do it.”

The young nurse nods and bites her lip.

Harry flashes a grateful smile that makes him feel sick and then races for Aquiline’s office. He can barely force himself to wait for her terse “Come in,” before he’s bursting into the room. He knows he should be with Clive right now, but his erratic sense of self-preservation has kicked in hard and insisted that taking a minute or two to find out just how quickly he’s going to be dying this time is in everyone’s best interests.

Aquiline, who had been sitting behind her desk buried in paperwork, is out of her seat as soon as she lays eyes on Harry.

“Healer Potter, what on earth is the matter?”

Sagging slightly, Harry leans back against the closed door and meets her eyes. “Would you please look at this? Is it a curse? Can you break it?” he says all in a rush, holding out his arm.

“If you’d stop panicking and remain still, Healer Potter.” Aquiline takes his arm and examines the pale band of skin around his wrist with sharp dark eyes. After ten seconds or so, she looks up at him. “This is not Dark magic.”

Relief softens Harry’s voice almost to a whisper. “It’s not? Well, good... what the hell is it, then?”

Aquiline’s cool fingers still grip his forearm. “Your patient died, didn’t she? Miss Vane?”

“How do you know?”

“This.” Aquiline indicates the pale band carelessly. Her voice is almost calm enough to soothe the tension, guilt and fear writhing in Harry’s gut. “What did she ask you to do?”

Harry frowns, confused. “She wants me to find someone to look after her son. She seemed pretty—”

“Desperate? Yes. That’s what makes this type of magic so powerful. This is a Deathbed Promise, Healer Potter. Your patient was a clever woman.”

“Yeah, she... what do you mean? What does it do?” Harry demands, mouth dry. “Er, Healer Aquiline.”

“It is very old magic. The physical manifestation, here—” She taps the band with her wand, “—is to remind you of your responsibility, and when you’ve fulfilled it, its claim on you will dissipate. Although...” She smiles pointedly, lifting Draco’s string with the tip of her wand. “...it appears that you have already been claimed.”

Harry flushes in spite of himself and is weirdly grateful that Aquiline touched the string with her wand and not her fingers.

“Well, that’s...” Harry looks at the floor and Aquiline releases him, allowing him to drop his arm back to his side. “So, you’re saying that because I promised her right before she died, the promise is magically binding somehow?”

“In essence. The exact wording is very important, though. Your words and hers; it must be a very specific promise. What exactly did she say to you?” Aquiline asks.

Harry tells her, dragging his gaze up from the floor and recounting their last conversation as quickly and accurately as his shattered nerves allow him. Aquiline takes a step back and nods slowly as he speaks.

“Healer Potter, it would seem that in the absence of any living relatives that we know of, the child is your responsibility,” Aquiline says when he falls silent. “At least until you have fulfilled the promise you have made.”

“Oh, god,” Harry whispers, rubbing at his face with a damp palm. “I was afraid of that.”

“You are capable,” she assesses, dark eyes steady. “She would not have chosen you otherwise.”

Harry attempts to suppress his anguished sigh but it escapes anyway. “She didn’t choose me, there wasn’t anyone else. What happens if I don’t do it?” he asks suddenly, not that he has any intention of abandoning Clive to a fate worse even than his own shoddy childcare skills: the authorities.

“What happens?” Aquiline frowns, puzzled. “Nothing happens, Healer Potter. This is not an Unbreakable Vow. It’s more akin to... a contract of honour. In my admittedly limited experience of this type of magic, though, the magical claim eventually compels the recipient to honour their promise, if left unfulfilled for long enough. But you are not planning to...?”

“No,” Harry cuts in quickly, clutching his wrist and shaking his head with sudden hot vehemence. Perhaps it’s the shadow of disapproval in Aquiline’s eyes, or perhaps it’s her use of the word honour, but it’s all at once imperative that he does this thing right. Or at least, as close as he can get. “No. I’ll work something out, I owe her that much. Thank you, Healer Aquiline, I have to... I have to go and talk to this little boy before he works out what’s happened.”

Harry has the door half open before she calls out to him.

“Healer.”

Aquiline’s tone is sharp, and Harry freezes. Looks at her uneasily.

“You do not owe her. Please hear me this time: this was not your fault.”

“But Healer Aquiline, I—”

“Do you honestly think I would have allowed you to go ahead with the treatment if I had thought it in bad judgement? I reiterate—risk is inherent, especially in this department. We don’t always know what we’re dealing with, and we chance, Healer. We gamble. Your patient would have died a week or two weeks from now had we done nothing. Had you done nothing.”

Harry stares at the scuff-marks on the polished floor and grips the door handle hard. Knowing some response is required of him, he nods stiffly, feeling too raw and unconvinced even by her plain logic to find any words that make sense.

“I know you have lost patients before,” she continues, and he closes his sore eyes but doesn’t look up. “I also know that, for whatever reason, this one was different. You are a very good Healer, Harry,” she says, and he looks up, surprised. Something in Aquiline’s face tells him that the use of his given name was deliberate. “I don’t want to tell you to become so hardened that you no longer care, but you must... go on. You must not lose your nerve. Do you understand me?”

Breath ripping in his chest, Harry gazes at the unusually impassioned face of his mentor, wishing he could process more than half of what she is saying. With some effort, he answers the question with the only possible response.

“Yes, Healer Aquiline.”

She nods, scrutinises his face carefully for god-knows-what, and retreats back behind her desk.

“Take tomorrow off,” she says simply and then picks up her quill and begins writing.

Relieved that he’s being dismissed, Harry closes the door and walks quickly back through the corridors of the second floor, reflecting dully that had he been under Tremellen’s supervision, the man would probably have found some way to punish him further for the whole thing, not given him a day off to sort things out. As he approaches the spot where he left them, Harry ups his pace, needing to find them before Clive gets upset and poor Kelly has to deal with a child who is, apparently, Harry’s responsibility in every way for the time being.

Too late.

He hears the thin cries before he sees either of them, and the sound wrenches at him.

“Shh, come on,” Kelly attempts, and Harry rounds the last corner to see them sitting together in a chair behind the nurses’ station.

Kelly is holding tightly onto an inconsolable Clive, who is sobbing hot tears into the shoulder of her pale blue robes and clutching tightly onto a dangling piece of purple-streaked hair. Guilt-ridden, Harry watches them for a moment. He was less than five minutes with Aquiline, but it’s clear that some part of his contingency plan has gone horribly awry and he feels horribly, disgustingly selfish for leaving at all.

The late hour means that the second floor corridor is almost deserted and Harry is at least grateful for that, but he has never heard the usually stoic Clive cry before and his sobs rent the empty air.

“What happened?” he whispers, leaning and wrapping his fingers around the cold, hard edge of the nurses’ station. “God, Kelly, I’m so sorry. I thought I had a Dark curse on me, and I...” Harry falls silent, cutting off his pointless excuses as Kelly meets his eyes over the crying child’s head.

“It’s not your fault,” she whispers back, face tight. “Idiot-face Ventriss over there,” she explains, jerking her chin in the direction of another nurse, who is having a frantic conversation with the night-shift Healer across the corridor, “obviously went in the room, left the door open, and then saw fit to ask me, ‘when did we lose room seven, then?’ when he was standing right next to me.”

Horrified, Harry drops his head to the cool wood for a brief second and then forces himself to stand and round the station; she’s not even supposed to still be working, never mind trying to console a heartbroken child.

“Has he said anything?”

“Well, he asked if his mummy was dead, and I...” Kelly shrugs awkwardly as she struggles to her feet and carefully passes Clive into Harry’s arms at his silent request. “I didn’t lie to him.”

The sobs soften ever so slightly as Clive grasps Harry’s t-shirt fabric and his body shakes against Harry’s, so ridiculously small and fragile that the panic and terror resurface and swirl around Harry in tidal waves.

“I wouldn’t have either, it’s alright,” Harry assures her, and for some reason he’s thinking of Narcissa Malfoy. No doubt she’d know exactly what to do in this situation, too. “Thank you.”

The young nurse smiles weakly, and Harry reflects that she’s not much more than a child herself; she can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen. She’s done a good job tonight.

“They found this.” Kelly holds out a folded piece of parchment with a sudden light flush to her skin. “I think it’s for you.”

Awkwardly, Harry unfolds the parchment between two fingers and stares at it, frozen.


Harry Potter’s Many Reasons to be Cheerful

1. You are the only person I have seen throughout my entire time here that looks good in that horrible shade of green.


Scanning to #17, Harry finds the source of Kelly’s inappropriate blush and almost smiles. Clive snuffles against his shoulder as he reads right to the bottom, where he finds three reasons that Romilda never had time to give him. Awash with hot pain, he can’t help smiling now as he reads:

18. Hr. Aquiline thinks you’re ‘marvellous’ (I heard her say it to that man with the big nose).

19. You are really, really good at what you do.

20. I know you did your best, Harry. I don’t blame you.


The last is written so untidily compared to Romilda’s usual neat, flowing script that it almost could be someone else’s handwriting. Almost.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Kelly says anxiously.

Harry looks at her, clutches the list to Clive’s back and forces a smile. “I know.”

“I’m going home,” she offers, looking relieved.

“So am I.” Harry pauses, shifting Clive against him and rubbing his back as the sobs begin to quieten. “So are we.”

**~*~**

By the time Harry has collected Clive and Romilda’s meagre belongings and Apparated to Grimmauld Place, the little boy is almost silent. His breath is still catching in that noisy, tremulous way that always follows a really good, hard cry, but that’s all. He clings to Harry and neither lifts his head nor utters a word as Harry speaks softly to him about where they’re going, that he’s going to be staying with Harry for a little while, and that he’s safe.

“This is my house,” Harry offers, dumping the bags and his crumpled robes on the sofa. “I know it’s not as nice as the Manor, but maybe we can go there in the morning, if you want.”

He wants so much to reassure the grieving child but has no clue what to do or say for the best; he’s in way over his head and he knows it, but if he can just hold onto his fragile calm until Clive falls asleep. If he falls asleep. Swallowing the panicky lump in his throat, Harry finds a free spot of sofa and sits down carefully with Clive in his lap.

And he sits. He can’t be certain how long they sit there, but as Harry strokes Clive’s fine hair and stares at his wrist, encircled by two very different symbols of possession, he has never felt quite so alone.

But he’s not, is he? He has Draco and Ron and Hermione and the Weasleys and more friends and colleagues than anyone could ask for. Clive has no mummy and no anyone.

He just has me, Harry thinks. Oh, fucking hell.

Impulsively, he slides Clive onto the sofa and quickly fire-calls the Manor. He doesn’t have the time, the words, or the inclination to explain the situation to an anxious Flimby, but manages to convey the message that Master Draco is to come as soon as he possibly can. And yes, it is being urgent.

When he turns back to the sofa, Clive is staring at him with wet, red-rimmed eyes. He’s curled into a tiny ball, knees pulled up to his chest and hair sticking to his tear-stained cheeks. Still, he doesn’t say a word.

“Are you scared?” Harry says, sitting beside him once more, voice raw. Clive says nothing, but the blue eyes flicker briefly. “I’m scared, too. But it’ll be OK.”

Clive burrows into his side and sniffles. Harry believes it will. Sort of.

When Draco steps out of the fireplace some fifteen minutes later, the sight of him makes something painful break open inside Harry’s chest; he doesn’t think he’s ever been so pleased to see anyone. Even if Draco looks tired and a little bit stressed out and even if his eyes immediately widen at the sight of the crying child and pile of bags on Harry’s sofa.

“Flimby said... oh, good grief.” Draco pauses in the centre of the room and lifts a hand to rake through his hair; Harry can practically see the wheels clicking over rapidly as he fits everything into place and, sure enough, after a minute or so and a deep, cleansing breath, an impressive calm settles over Draco’s features and he lets the hand drop. Dishevelled blond hair falls over his forehead but he doesn’t swipe it away.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Harry says before he can stop himself. He cringes even as he hears the words and the desperate tone, but Draco only offers him an almost-smile and shoves some bags out of the way to sit carefully at Harry’s side, the side not currently occupied by Clive.

“Hello, Clive,” Draco says uncertainly, seeming torn between addressing the distraught child and pretending he doesn’t see him. Manners, apparently, win out.

Though he says nothing, the blue eyes are visible for a second or two as Clive glances up at Draco, before he disappears under Harry’s arm again. At Harry’s other side, he can feel Draco’s questions humming under the surface as though he doesn’t quite know how to ask them.

Sighing, Harry offers his wrist in silent explanation. For some reason, he suspects that Draco will know what he’s done without the need for words; he’s good like that.

As Draco takes Harry’s hand in both of his, there’s a sharp intake of breath, and careful fingers stroking over first the worn string and then the pale band of skin representing the Promise. The touch shakes Harry and he can feel his brittle composure begin to shatter with the familiar scent in his nostrils and the warm press of Draco’s body, hip to knee and shoulders brushing.

“What did you promise?” Draco whispers, thumbs sliding from Harry’s wrist to press firmly into his palm.

Harry lets out a soft, involuntary groan as the stimulation of some unknown pressure-point sends a wave of pleasurable tranquillity coursing through him. Draco smiles.

“I’ll tell you later,” Harry whispers back, indicating Clive, who—now that he looks properly—seems to have fallen into a slightly restless sleep.

They both watch him for long minutes before it becomes apparent that he’s not about to wake up in the next minute or so. Harry sets a movement-sensing charm around him and leaves the door open as he and Draco step quietly into the kitchen.

Draco makes tea without being asked and Harry spills out everything, pacing restlessly from one end of the kitchen to the other as he explains about Romilda and Kelly and Aquiline, about the stupid nurse and how he shouldn’t have left anyway, about the list and the Promise and how Aquiline had tried to insist it wasn’t his fault, even though it was.

“And now I have to... I don’t know how to look after a child! I don’t even know what he needs; he hardly has any stuff at all...” Harry stops and leans heavily against the doorframe until it digs into his back. Draco calmly sips tea and regards him with steady grey eyes. “Oh, fuck... Ginny would know what to do, wouldn’t she? Or Fyz. Fucking hell, even Scary Craft Lady would know what to do,” he laments, knowing he’s not making any sense but unable to stop the stream of words.

“What about Marley?” Draco asks, draining his cup and setting it down.

Harry’s sharp bark of laughter is edged with a hysteria that even he can hear. “That’s the one thing that’s consoling me. I think Marley would be even more useless in this situation than me. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. They’d know, they’d all know...” Harry rubs his eyes viciously under his glasses.

“Well, they’re not here,” Draco offers, stepping closer.

“I know! And... wow, thank god they’re not. If anything could make this feel more like a bad dream, it’d be your entire staff team running around my house in the middle of the night!”

Harry closes his eyes and lets his head bang painfully against the solid wooden door frame. When he opens them again seconds later, he’s just in time to see Draco standing very close to him before he’s being yanked several feet to one side and pushed up against the kitchen wall with a force that knocks the breath from him in a painful whoosh.

His mouth is covered and invaded by warm lips and a demanding tongue in a hard kiss that shakes him inside and distracts him for long enough for the spiralling panic to abate.

When Draco pulls back to look at him, Harry is breathless and clinging to him with fingers twisted in the fabric of his grey sweater.

“Are you calm?”

“Erm... I don’t know,” Harry offers honestly.

“Well, that’s illuminating.”

“Why are you calm?” Harry asks, searching Draco’s face for even a hint of the terror he feels.

“I’m not,” Draco whispers, eyes bright in the darkness of the kitchen. “But you have to pull yourself together, right now.”

“I am together,” Harry protests pointlessly, and it’s only Draco’s tiny smile and eyebrow-lift that force him to admit that he isn’t, or at least he wasn’t. He lets out a huge breath in one messy exhalation and allows himself to rest against Draco’s warm shoulder, just for a moment.

“No,” Draco refutes, lips warm against Harry’s ear as he allows him that moment. “And yes.”

Heart lifting, Harry smiles wearily. “Yes to you, too.”

From the living room comes the soft, insistent chiming sound of the movement sensing charm. Harry and Draco pull carefully apart, regard each other with grim determination and step back into the living room.

**~*~**

An hour or so later, having Transfigured between them a few items in the spare bedroom directly opposite Harry’s to make them more child-friendly, Harry and a very hesitant Draco manage to settle Clive into bed. He’s still yet to say a word, but it’s very late for a four-year-old and in Harry’s experience, crying like that is exhausting for anyone.

He had been worried that the little boy would refuse to sleep alone after so many weeks at his mother’s side, but as his eyes had fluttered closed, he had looked afraid only when Harry had turned out the lights; Harry supposes it’s never truly dark in the hospital, no matter the time of day, and he eventually hits upon inspiration, retrieving the glass sphere from his own bedroom and setting it on the floor next to the bed, full of softly dancing blue flames.

“I think I need to sleep, too,” Harry mumbles as they withdraw into the hallway.

Draco’s eyes are oddly pained, and Harry reaches for him.

“I’d better get going, then.”

“Excuse me? Going where? Don’t you dare leave me!” Harry’s fingers close around Draco’s wrist as though to prevent his imminent escape. He doesn’t care how needy or demanding he sounds, not tonight.

“Harry, you’ve got a four-year-old child sleeping in the bedroom across from yours.” Draco shifts on the spot, grey eyes appealing. “How do you think you’re going to explain why I’m still here in the morning?”

Comprehension slaps Harry in the face, and for some inexplicable reason, he wants to laugh. It’s funny, he supposes, because even though the ground is shifting right beneath his feet in so many ways, of this he is completely certain.

“What if this takes weeks? Or months? I’m not pretending that this—” Harry gestures vaguely between them with the hand that isn’t gripping Draco’s wrist, “—doesn’t exist for all that time.”

Draco blinks slowly. “Are you certain?”

Harry does laugh this time, and at Draco’s puzzled expression, just shakes his head and pulls him into the bedroom.

“Harry.” Draco holds himself stiffly as Harry tugs at his sweater, but allows him to pull it over his head and then just stands there ruffle-haired and shirtless with his arms crossed over his chest.

As Harry sheds his own shirt and looks at his hesitant partner, amusement tinged with desperation pitches into the tangle of painful emotions occupying his gut and mingles until he no longer has a clue what he feels or indeed what he’s supposed to be feeling.

Someone needs reassurance, and he’s confused, because he thought it would be him.

“Draco,” he murmurs, pressing close and ignoring the folded arms. “Believe me, I’m far too tired to be playing any kind of mind game with you. I’m tired and a bit freaked out and I just need you to be with me, OK?”

He flushes at the request and Draco’s eyes soften, but he says nothing more until they are both sprawled out underneath the sheets. Neither is quite naked for once, but there is enough skin to skin contact for Harry to relax a fraction more and close his eyes.

He can’t slow the pounding of his heart or the roiling of his stomach any more than he can silence his mind’s insistence that nothing is ever going to be the same again, but Draco’s steady heartbeat under his cheek and the hand systematically combing and flattening his unruly hair feel good.

“So,” Draco says at last, allowing Harry to pick up his left arm from the sheets and press his palm full-length against the marked skin in a self-soothing gesture. “An ex-Gryffindor snares you with a Deathbed Promise.”

Harry snorts against his skin. “You sound... impressed.”

“Mm,” Draco mumbles noncommittally.

“Trust you to focus on the important, relevant information.”

“Well, essentially, that’s what happened.” Draco’s voice is low and calming as he continues to play with Harry’s hair in his comfortingly peculiar way.

“She’s... a desperate mother, that’s all. She wants... she wanted someone to look after her child. Someone who’s not me, clearly, which... is a bit of a relief.” Harry pauses, hearing his own words and finding them callous. “That’s awful isn’t it?”

“No. It’s not awful at all. Harry... it’s... dare I say it—normal,” Draco offers, fingers slipping down to brush lightly over Harry’s jawline. He daren’t open his eyes, especially when they’re stinging like this.

“What am I going to do until I find someone to take him? I haven’t got time to look after a child, and neither have you.”

“Don’t worry about it... I suspect my mother will take him during the day, she doesn’t mind taking care of him, and Zeus adores him. It isn’t as though she...” Draco pauses, and his hand stills.

“What?”

“...has anything better to do, but that actually does sound awful.” Draco sighs, and Harry shifts closer instinctively, needing as much contact as possible to chase away their combined uncertainty.

“Let’s make a rule,” Harry mumbles, pressing a lazy kiss to Draco’s warm skin. “We can say whatever we want in this room, even if it is awful, and we’re not allowed to feel guilty about it.”

“Alright,” Draco says after a moment, threading his fingers through Harry’s hair once more. “In the interest of doing so, I don’t think that child likes me.”

Eyes screwed tightly shut, Harry sighs. “If he doesn’t like anyone, it should be me. It’s my fault his mum’s dead.”

“You really have to stop saying that.”

“Thought we’d agreed we could say whatever we wanted.”

“That’s different. It’s destructive, and... the more you say something like that, the more you start to believe it.”

“I already believe it.”

Draco exhales raggedly and tugs at Harry’s hair until the dull, yanking ache makes him lift his head to meet intense grey eyes in the darkness.

“Was I this recalcitrant when you were trying to convince me not to punish myself?”

“I’m not recalcitrant,” Harry mutters, the set of Draco’s eyes making him ache. “And yes, you were.”

“Fair enough. And I know you’re probably not going to listen to me, because you rarely do, but Harry, all you did was your job.”

“Draco, don’t... you don’t...” Harry drops his head back to the safety of Draco’s chest, biting back the ‘you don’t understand’ on the tip of his tongue.

“Understand?” Draco supplies, irritatingly perceptive as usual. “Perhaps not.” He drops his voice to a whisper and resumes his absent-minded hair-flattening. “During my first year in Chem Dep, I had a patient named Lila. She was perhaps the most combative person I’ve ever met, outside of the Death Eaters, at any rate. It didn’t matter what I did or said, she refused to listen to me, and she was only there in the first place because her family forced her.”

In spite of himself, Harry is listening, and when Draco pauses, he finds himself holding his breath.

“What happened to her?”

“She used to say to me in almost every group, ‘Draco, if you don’t stop pushing me, I’m going to walk out of here’. But I had to push her. How could I help her if I didn’t push her? She was a relapse waiting to happen. So I told her this. And I continued to push her.”

“Did she walk out?” Harry whispers, following the slash-curve of Draco’s scars with his fingers, concentrating only on the tactile sensation of smooth shiny lines to guide him.

“Yes. Eventually, she did. Two days later, I received an owl telling me that she had taken an accidental overdose and died. She was thirty-one.”

All the tiny hairs on the back of Harry’s neck prickle and he grips Draco’s hand tightly amid the sheets, but does not look up. “That wasn’t your fault,” he says before he can stop himself. “She probably would have done that regardless of anything you did or said.”

“I’ll never know that,” Draco whispers roughly. “And can you hear yourself? I’m not telling you this story for the good of my health.”

There’s a familiar irritable slant to his words that compels Harry to look up. When he does, propping himself on one elbow, the grey eyes glitter with defiant vulnerability and Harry understands what is being offered in an attempt to ease his mind. The ache inside him opens up, and he scrambles forward gracelessly to catch Draco’s mouth in a deep kiss.

“Thank you.” Harry tugs Draco onto his side until they lay facing one another, inches apart, sharing pillow-space and warm breath. “But I don’t know if I can. Not yet,” he adds after a moment.

“Not yet,” Draco repeats, with an almost-smile that’s startlingly beautiful.

Miraculously, Harry’s racing thoughts are slowed just enough for him to lose track of time, focusing as he is only on warmth and touch and musky citrus all around him. The effect is so soporific that the scuffle of floorboards and the shadowy little figure in the doorway some time later makes him jump. And just about hold back the surprised profanity. Just about.

He gazes at the sleep-ruffled little boy over Draco’s shoulder; the blue eyes are wide and unblinking as Clive seeks him out in the darkened room. Following Harry’s gaze, Draco glances behind himself at the door and then flops onto his back, looking at the ceiling, expression unreadable. Harry disentangles himself and smiles at Clive. He finds a t-shirt and throws it on, and with a little bit of encouragement, persuades Clive to accompany him downstairs.

Still horribly unsure what the hell he should be saying, Harry rambles away to the little boy as he makes hot chocolate from scratch, and though it’s been quite a while since he last did so, the familiar ritual of pan, milk and whisk makes him feel better, as well as giving him something to do with his hands.

“Is Drake mad with me?” Clive says suddenly. His voice is small, but it’s the first thing he’s said in hours, and Harry turns, surprised.

“No, of course he’s not.” Harry sets down the hot mugs at the table and pulls out the chair next to Clive’s. He’s still wondering if or how he should address the sharing-a-bed issue, until Clive speaks again.

“Drake smiles nice when he’s with you,” he advises, staring hard into his hot chocolate. “Is he yours?”

Harry swallows dryly. “Yeah,” he says softly. “He’s mine.”

Clive nods solemnly and tips the large mug toward his mouth at a precarious angle to avoid having to lift it up. Harry absently hopes he isn’t burning his mouth, and wraps fingers around his own mug.

“I want my mum,” he whispers, avoiding Harry’s eyes and staring at the table.

At the simple, unvarnished words, hot guilt rushes back up through the cracks that Draco had smoothed over, and Harry sighs heavily. “I know. I’m sorry.”

Tears brim in the round blue eyes but do not fall; Harry wishes he could just read his mind. That would help.

A loud flap from the top cupboard makes them both look, and despite Harry’s muttered oaths and glares, the door continues to creak and bang back and forth with a vigour quite unsuitable for this hour of the morning.

“What’s he saying?” Clive wants to know, turning back to Harry.

Relieved at the distraction, Harry smiles ruefully. “He wants to know why we aren’t paying him any attention.”

“Oh.” Clive chews his lip and gazes at the flapping cupboard door. “Hello,” he whispers uncertainly.

The cupboard flutters in an almost coquettish manner and Harry is torn between rolling his eyes and smiling unreservedly at the little boy’s eagerness to communicate. In the end, he does both, and it’s this expression that prompts an immediate arched eyebrow from Draco as he enters the room. Blond hair rumpled, he’s still wearing black boxers and has put on and successfully buttoned the white shirt.

Clive falls silent and very still at the sight, and Harry scrapes back his chair so he can climb into his lap. Draco, already hard-eyed with what Harry knows is discomfort, watches the display and sighs softly. He pauses at the other side of the table and reaches for Harry’s steaming mug, making a show of inspecting the contents, just for something to do.

Harry aches for him. They’re all drifting here, in this half-lit kitchen at—he glances at the clock—two fifteen on a Tuesday morning, and for whatever reason it’s fallen to him to hold them all together for the time being, so he throws Draco a lifeline. One arm wrapped securely around Clive, Harry pulls out the other chair and meets doubtful grey eyes.

“Come and sit down.”

As Draco sits in silence and continues to drink from Harry’s cup, Harry realises for the first time that he really does believe that Clive doesn’t like him. Though he’s no expert, Harry wouldn’t be surprised if small children can sense fear in the same way animals can, and Draco is exuding ‘I am extremely unnerved’ from every pore.

The pin-drop silence of the kitchen is unsettling, with even the cupboard desisting all flapping and creaking as if in sympathy. After an agonizing two or three minutes, Harry reaches out and reclaims his mug from Draco. He gulps at the sweet, frothy liquid and then reaches for Draco’s hand, gripping fingers warmed by hot ceramic and holding on. Clive watches very carefully from his position on Harry’s knee, visibly intrigued despite his earlier distress.

“Sorry I woke you up, Drake,” he almost whispers.

Draco looks up, startled. “That’s alright, I wasn’t sleeping. Just... lying very still.”

Clive stares at Draco for a long time. “Where is she?” he says at last.

Something unpleasant fish-leaps in Harry’s stomach, and Draco just blinks, bewildered.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”

Harry kicks him lightly under the table. “Do you mean your mum?” he asks gently, hoping against all hope that just maybe, he might mean something completely different.

“She said... when you die, you go to another place.” Clive looks up at Harry, eyes shimmering dangerously. “Where?”

Harry hesitates. He doesn’t know the answer to that. He doesn’t believe in heaven, exactly, which would be the easiest answer... dead is just... dead, he knows that, but he also doesn’t imagine that will be the most comforting thing for Clive to hear. The trouble is, no one ever bothered to explain death in a nice, sensitive way to him when he was a child.

“Well, I think...”

“The stars,” Draco offers unexpectedly, and they both turn to look at him. “When my Grandma Black died, my mother said she was in the stars. Watching,” he adds, with a slight flush, and then he looks away.

As Clive chews on his lip and turns to look very seriously at the pitch-black night beyond the window over Harry’s shoulder, Harry ignores the silly sting behind his eyelids and mouths a grateful ‘Thanks,’ at Draco.

“What for?” Draco whispers, but he pulls his chair closer, and by the time Clive falls into a restless sleep once more on Harry’s lap, one small hand is curled around Draco’s wrist.

Neither daring to move and disturb the delicate peace, Harry and Draco stare at each other in silence that is, at least, now comfortable between them. The tired grey eyes seem to convey a simple yet impossible question that Harry eventually has to voice in a whisper.

“Now what?”

**~*~**

Despite his exhaustion, Harry barely sleeps, even after he and Draco manage to very carefully return Clive to bed without waking him. His mind is racing, and even with Draco’s better efforts at distraction, offers to talk it through some more and gestures of silent comfort, as the sky outside the bedroom window softens from black to orange, pink and eventually pale blue, Harry stares at the cracks in his ceiling and wonders what the hell he’s going to do next.

He can’t deny that he’s become attached to the child, but... Harry sighs, breath ruffling the blond strands fanned out across his chest as Draco sleeps lightly. But, he says silently to the ceiling, Romilda was right. He’s not ready to raise a child. Neither does he have the time, the energy or the knowledge to give Clive everything he’s going to need in the absence of a mother.

The trouble is, who the hell does? Find him a home, sure. Harry closes his eyes and for the first time, a horrible treacherous prickle of resentment runs through him. Hot on its heels is the inevitable wash of guilt, and Harry tightens his arms around Draco reflexively.

“Oxygen,” Draco murmurs after a moment, and Harry loosens his grip. The resulting sleepy smile against his skin and the soft light filtering through the blinds slow Harry’s spiralling pulse, just a little, but it’s enough for him to finally drift into sleep.

**~*~**

It’s late afternoon by the time Harry, Draco and Clive make it to the Manor. Though he seems to be all cried out, Clive has barely said a word all day, and responds to Harry’s stream of stress-induced questions with nods and shrugs and whispers.

When the three of them look carefully through the assorted bags from the hospital, Clive just sits there and bites his lip, reacting only when a photograph of himself and his mother is pulled out of one bag. Blinking rapidly, he holds out a hand for the picture and fits it into his pocket as though he thinks someone will take it away from him.

Draco has fire-called ahead, and Narcissa is waiting for them in her usual chair. Zeus is curled up asleep at her feet, ears twitching with silent dreams. The blunt afternoon sun makes Narcissa’s hair glow golden as she turns her head to see them, eyes anxious, and Harry is oddly pleased to realise that he’s learning to read her at long last.

“Draco. Mr Potter.” Her eyes drop to regard the silent child at Harry’s side. “Hello, Clive.”

For a moment, nothing happens, and Harry holds his breath. And then, he hurtles toward the chair as though pushed, pressing himself against Narcissa’s pale blue robes.

“My mummy went to sleep, Mrs Mafloy,” Clive offers quietly. “And she’s not going to wake up any more. She’s in the stars.”

The sharp inhalation at Harry’s side makes him turn and catch Draco’s eyes. A quick brush of fingers and then he’s drawn back to watch the rapid flash of emotions across Narcissa’s face as she glances first at her son, surprised, and then at the little boy at her feet.

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. My mother passed away, too.”

“Grandma Black?” Harry whispers, and Draco nods.

“Did you cry?” Clive wants to know.

“Yes, of course.”

Clive seems to consider this, dropping heavily to the floor and stroking Zeus’ ears, lip caught between his teeth. Harry barely dares to move from the doorway.

“Can we look at the pictures again?”

“Of course.”

Puzzled, Harry watches as Narcissa rises gracefully and crosses the room. She lifts what looks like a large, ornate photograph album and returns to her chair without a word.

“Where would you like to start?”

Clive’s answer is muffled as he wipes his nose on his sleeve, and though her delicate nose wrinkles ever-so-slightly, Narcissa amazingly doesn’t say anything other than asking him to repeat himself.

“Great-great-great grandad Mafloy. With the ruffles,” Clive says, and Harry begins to suspect that this, too, is just another ritual.

Either way, both the haughty woman and the little boy seem to have forgotten that Harry and Draco are even in the room.

“I don’t think,” Draco murmurs very close to Harry’s ear, “that we’re going to have a problem with the extra babysitting.”

Harry shivers lightly at the sensation of warm breath and reaches for Draco’s fingers. Clive is still pale-faced and unsmiling, but as he sits with Narcissa and pores over the moving photographs of Malfoys-past, he is more animated than Harry has seen him since they left the hospital, and a cautious little part of him dares to hope.

“Well, that’s something. But I don’t want to assume...”

“Can we help you with something, gentlemen?” Narcissa cuts in, eyebrows arched but tone soft.

Harry bites back a confusing, instinctive smile and shakes his head mutely.

“He’ll be fine for a little while, Harry.” Draco gently pulls him by the hand toward the still-open doorway. “Let’s go and see if we can get some substandard tea out of Flimby.”

“Are you certain, Mrs Malfoy?” Harry asks, finally finding his voice.

“Always,” she murmurs with a brief, grim smile, dropping her eyes to the spot in the album where Clive is pointing.

“I’ll be back, I...” Harry hesitates in the doorway. “Pera gratia.”

Narcissa’s lips twitch even as her eyes remain fixed upon the photographs.

Draco’s fingers are warm and strong around his as they draw him out into the corridor. “Do you know that you’re saying it wrong?” he asks.

Harry lets the smile out, and it feels wonderful, just for a moment. “Yep,” he says, and no more.

**~*~**

That night, Clive sleeps more soundly; although the three of them still end up in the kitchen at somewhere around three am, he is quicker to settle and Harry can’t help but think that Narcissa and her photographs have something to do with it. Whatever it is, he’s grateful for the temporary respite.

Once back in bed, Harry grabs a couple of hours of slightly troubled rest with Draco’s comforting warmth pressed all along his back. Or at least, he does until his traitorous body reacts to the proximity and the arms around him without his permission; the urge to push back against Draco and arch into the soft mouth grazing his neck is incredible, but he doesn’t dare. Not with both doors open, and just... no. Harry groans and fights down his inapt desire with a gargantuan effort.

What was it he’d said to Draco last night? That it could be weeks? Harry groans again.

“What’s the matter?”

“I want you,” Harry whispers, frustration turning his blood hot and restless.

“I can see how that might cause you distress,” is muttered into the back of his neck, and he shudders.

“You’re not helping, Draco,” Harry complains, as cool fingers slide along his hipbone and settle just inside his snug waistband. The careful, light touch makes his already-hard cock twitch and ache for attention.

“Don’t say that,” Draco murmurs, dropping his voice into the low, honeyed tone that makes Harry want to give him absolutely anything he wants. “I’m extremely helpful.”

An answering hardness, cloaked in straining black cotton, presses hotly at his back and Harry bites his lip until it hurts and he tastes coppery blood on his tongue. “Draco,” he hisses.

His unconscious shift back draws a soft sigh of approval from Draco. “I’m not doing anything,” he insists.

“Like fuck you’re not.” Harry reaches down and covers the hand still caressing the sensitive jut of his hipbone, pressing both their hands firmly against his heated skin.

Draco sighs and kisses lightly from the base of Harry’s neck right up to behind his ear. “Don’t worry, I shan’t attempt to molest you while there’s a good chance we’ll be interrupted.” The fingertips under Harry’s flicker speculatively. “Even if I really, really want to.”

“Oh, god.” Harry presses his face into the cool, clean-scented pillow with a tormented sigh. Still hot, hard and sticky, he takes a moment to weigh things up—giving in would almost certainly wash away some of his bad feeling for long enough to get some sleep, but would do nothing good for the guilt that has become a constant companion. “What does it say about us, that even in a fucked-up situation like this, we can’t go two days without sex?”

“Nothing bad,” Draco says after a moment. “And for what it’s worth, I think sex is generally a good call in most fucked-up situations.”

Harry smiles faintly. “Like what?”

He feels Draco’s shrug against his back, and then his contemplative hum. “Wars. Deaths. Rehab. Sudden... acquisition of children.”

“Not supposed to have sex in rehab,” Harry offers, wanting to focus on anything other than the insistent throb low down inside him that is demanding Draco.

“Not supposed to do a lot of things.”

“That’s true.” Harry’s frazzled brain attempts to focus on the verbal exchange but the primal part of him is pleading for either sex or sleep, and it’s a struggle.

“But anyway,” Draco continues, sounding oddly bemused, “there doesn’t have to be a reason. It’s alright to want... just because.”

“You want me just because?” Harry mumbles, heart twinging.

“Yes.”

Harry sighs, smiles, and slides both of their hands up to a safe spot on his belly. “Good. Go to sleep.”

As Draco settles with a little discontent mumbling, Harry’s last sleepy reflection is that Draco is really dealing with all of this rather well—he seems to be taking the whole business with Clive in his ridiculously elegant stride. Perhaps it’s because he’s accustomed to chaos. Perhaps it’s because unlike Harry, he doesn’t really mind change. Perhaps...

“Shh,” mumbles Draco. “I can nearly hear you thinking.”

Perhaps Harry should stop trying to analyse him and just love the peculiar bastard.

**~*~**

Wednesday sees both Harry and Draco return to work. The world has not, as Harry fleetingly suspected, ground to a halt around them, and there remains an overwhelming amount of work to be done. Draco and his team are still racing against the clock to have everything finished before their March 1st deadline, and Harry steps reluctantly back into the maelstrom that is Reversals and—under the watchful eye of Healer Aquiline—reclaims his demanding patient-load.

Romilda’s old room lies as yet unoccupied, and Harry’s eyes flick over the empty bed with its immaculate sheets whenever he passes the open door, until the sharp pang of failure and loss makes him look away to stare hard at a chart or his wand or Nurse Bates, whichever is closest. Kelly, perhaps in an effort at distraction, asks frequently after Clive, and each time Harry finds it a little easier to find a smile for her and to focus on the living.

Narcissa swiftly makes the transition from helpful to indispensible as she easily accepts the position of daytime caregiver, after listening impassively to Harry’s halting explanation of the situation and inspecting his wrist with quiet interest. He doesn’t really have it in him to be surprised about much any more, but still, he never expected to find himself voluntarily confiding in Narcissa Malfoy.

And yet, as he and Draco struggle to hold onto their myriad strands of responsibility, she accepts the displaced child, and the fact that she treats him exactly the same as before seems to soothe him.

Harry owls Ron and Hermione early on in the week to fill them in on the situation, but the combination of his new work and home commitments means it’s almost the weekend before they have the chance to talk in person. To add to his agitation, as they prepare to Apparate to Ron and Hermione’s flat on Friday evening, Harry can no longer remember the last time he had more than a minute alone with Draco.

He’s never known frustration like it. And Draco isn’t doing his guilt-ridden, tortured libido any good by looking particularly stunning in light grey, hair falling just right and smelling like everything Harry wants to taste as he steps close for the jump that they could easily make separately.

“He’s fine, before you ask.” Draco kisses the corner of Harry’s mouth and pulls back far too soon. “He and Mother are talking to some paintings on the third floor. I decided not to ask.”

“Good call,” Harry murmurs, threading fingers into Draco’s belt loops and meeting grey eyes in a look of mutual heated longing which has become all too familiar. With a ragged sigh, he glances around at Draco’s ground-floor parlour. “Let’s go before I lose whatever’s left of my willpower and...”

Harry doesn’t finish his sentence but he’s gratified to see the grey eyes darken just before the pull of Disapparation consumes them both.

Predictably, Hermione grabs Harry into a tight hug the second she sees him; when she releases him, he’s gasping slightly and her dark eyes are bright with anxiety.

For once, she barely seems to see Draco as she steers Harry into the living room, talking rapidly.

“It’s really old magic, this Deathbed Promise stuff. Archaic, in fact. She must’ve been completely—”

“Desperate, yeah.”

“Well, exactly,” Hermione continues, and the first thing Harry sees when he enters the living room is the coffee table, or at least, what used to be the coffee table, but is now an avalanche of books, notes and colour-coded bits of parchment. He sighs. “Anyway, I’ve been doing some—”

“Research,” finish Ron, Draco and Harry as one, and Hermione looks up crossly, not releasing Harry’s arm.

“There’s no need to be like that. You know, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve helped each of you out of some mess because you don’t seem to have figured out how to pick up a book.”

The hard set of her mouth and hand on one hip makes Ron flash a clumsy, conciliatory smile and Harry mumble an apology, and then: “Draco knows how to pick up a book. He does nothing but pick up books!”

At his side, Draco makes a small sound of amusement and his shoulder brushes gently against Harry’s.

“Yes, well.” Hermione huffs and lets go of Harry so she can cross her arms. “That’s not really the point.”

Harry glances at the table, at the rows and rows of neat handwriting and stickers and collections of leaflets representing Merlin-knows how many hours of unprompted work on his behalf, and then at Hermione’s exasperated expression. Ron’s bemusement. Draco’s suppressed smile.

A sudden lightness lifts him, and he’s grateful for the distraction of a pointless not-quite-squabble with the people he cares about most in the world. He smiles.

“Thank you, ’Mione.”

Mollified, she pulls Harry down onto the sofa and hauls a stack of files closer. “Alright. Well...” She pauses, brows knitted as the thought occurs to her. “Who’s looking after Clive while you’re here?”

“Draco’s mum,” Harry says, wondering how he’d neglected to mention it earlier.

Hermione’s eyes widen and her mouth drops open just a fraction. Harry is all of a sudden very aware of Draco, who has yet to sit down, and must be able to see—

“—Malfoy,” Ron cuts in hurriedly. “Glass of wine, mate?”

“If you insist, Weasley,” Draco replies, and Harry turns to watch them leave the room, grateful for the save and astonished at Ron’s flash of awareness.

When he turns back to Hermione, she’s chewing her lip and her dark eyes are full of guilt.

“Sorry,” she whispers. “I just... you’re seriously leaving him with that woman?”

That woman has been looking after him almost every afternoon for weeks, now,” he points out, oddly defensive. OK, so he hasn’t shared all of the finer points of his strange, evolving relationship with Mrs Malfoy, but he thought he’d done enough to make Hermione believe that she wasn’t evil. His friend’s dubious expression, though, suggests otherwise.

“I know, but there were other people there then, weren’t there?”

“What are you suggesting?”

“I’m not suggesting anything, but... alright.” Hermione stops and casts her eyes to the floor. When she looks up again, her face is oddly determined. “You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t trust her.”

Relieved, Harry nods. He knows the concern is genuine, and he hadn’t anticipated feeling so protective of Narcissa, but he supposes she’s just another one of the strange little things that comes along with Draco, and that’s just the way it is.

“I’m sorry about Romilda, Harry,” Hermione is saying, and he blinks, realising he’s been lost in his thoughts. The dull twinge of guilt is almost reassuringly predictable. “Ron thinks you’re probably doing your... well, he said you’re probably hitting yourself over the head with a big stick about it, which isn’t the nicest turn of phrase.”

Harry sighs and picks at a sticker on one of Hermione’s folders. “And what do you think?”

“I think he’s right, but I dare say it won’t make any difference if I tell you that it wasn’t your fault.”

Harry offers her a small smile. “You can try.”

Unexpectedly, Hermione shakes her head and reaches out to flick a strand of hair out of Harry’s eyes, then folds her hands in her lap. “I don’t know if you’re ready to hear it. From me,” she adds, eyes flitting to the kitchen door, where Harry can just about see Draco and Ron engaged in a relatively peaceful conversation. “But... every decision has a consequence, and I’m not just talking about yours. Want to see what I found out?”

“Yeah, of course.” Harry smiles at his friend and turns his attention to the deluge of information in front of him. Hermione’s emphasis on the practical, he realises, and her honest belief that books can solve most of life’s problems, is one more heartening constant that he’s quite happy to hold onto.

Leaning forward on the sofa, he listens as Hermione tells him about other recorded uses of the Deathbed Promise and the history of the arcane bit of magic, which was, apparently, first used by desperate purebloods to compel their single children to marry and produce heirs.

“Lovely,” Harry remarks, looking up from his parchment.

Hermione grimaces. “I know.”

She has also amassed a vast array of booklets and brochures on the subject of childcare, some of them similar to the ones Harry has taken from Romilda’s bedside. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of them, Harry trails his fingers over the shiny publications, stomach twisting. Forcibly, he reminds himself that she didn’t actually seem to want Harry to take care of Clive on a permanent basis, but even so.

His rough sigh attracts Hermione’s sharp eyes and she pulls his hand away from the glossy brochures.

“There are other options, you know. Lots of options...” she trails off, sounding uncertain.

“Name one.”

“Well, you could... look, Harry, I’m not for a moment suggesting you should, or are in a position to, raise someone else’s child. But you have to remember that you always have a choice.”

Harry sighs yet again and drags a hand over his face. “Yeah,” he says softly. “I know she probably wasn’t thinking straight in that moment, but I wonder if she just imagined that I know dozens of perfect, loving families all ready to accept another child.”

“I think,” Hermione concedes, “that she trusted you to make a good decision, that’s all. You, over some faceless Children’s Services worker from the Ministry, who’d turn up having never met Clive before and just slot him in somewhere according to some tick-box system.”

As usual, Hermione seems to take the reins of logic and tame it into something Harry can recognise, even if he doesn’t really want to. “Yeah?”

“Absolutely.”

Harry slumps back into the soft support of the cushions and closes his eyes. “And in the meantime, he has me and Draco to... what’s that phrase? In loco parentis?”

“Mm. If nothing else, your Latin has improved,” Hermione remarks, and he feels the depression of the back cushions as she flops back beside him.

Harry opens one eye. “Shut up. And anyway, my point is, maybe he’d have been better off with the tick-box lady.” At Hermione’s sniff, he adds: “Or tick-box man.”

“Don’t be daft, Harry. I’m sure you’re doing fine.” She pauses in thought, and when she speaks again, her no-nonsense tone has been replaced by one of mild curiosity. “Has he asked... about you and Draco? I know he’s very young but children are very perceptive, aren’t they?”

Shifting to look at her, Harry is assaulted by a simultaneous flush and half-smile. “He asked, sort of, the first night. I said yes, and he just seemed to accept it. It’d be nice if everyone else was so accommodating.”

Hermione snorts and draws her legs up onto the sofa, tucking her feet underneath herself. “In an ideal world, Harry. Speaking of which, are those horrible Prophet people still coming to the open day?”

“Can’t keep them away,” Draco says, appearing behind the sofa and handing Harry a glass of wine. “Bloodsuckers,” he adds cheerfully. “Perhaps something untoward will happen to one of them while nobody is looking.”

For a moment, Hermione looks horrified, until Draco’s brief flash of teeth softens her expression into a light scowl. “For goodness’ sake, Draco. And where’s my drink?”

“Here.” Ron passes her a glass. “Information transfer complete?”

Harry lifts an eyebrow but Ron merely smiles and grasps his shoulder in a wordless gesture of support.

When he glances at the clock, he’s surprised to realise just how long he and Hermione have been talking. He can’t help but be curious as to what Ron and Draco have been discussing in the kitchen all this time, but perhaps wisely, decides not to ask. That they’re on friendly—if argumentative—terms at all is more than he had ever dared hope for.

He’s just wondering, somewhat reluctantly, if they should be getting back, when a small owl swoops in through the open window and lands on the sofa arm nearest Harry. It waits patiently as Harry reads.

Mr Potter,

Clive is sleeping. I have taken the liberty of putting him down in the bedroom next to mine. He has informed me that he is likely to awaken during the night, and he is not alone in this.

I would be happy to take him for the night; I imagine that you are eager to catch up on sleep, et cetera.

Apollo will await your response.

-NRM.


Draco, reading the note over Harry’s shoulder, is apparently entertained. “Et cetera,” he remarks.

Harry fights the temptation to cover his face as he leans back to make eye contact with Draco and the not-very-thinly-veiled implication is hammered home. Finding himself torn between gratitude for the unprompted offer, anxiety for Clive’s wellbeing, and furious embarrassment at the coolly suggestive tone of Narcissa’s note, he merely groans softly and gulps at his drink.

Hermione takes the note when he offers it and this time hides her reaction much more effectively.

“She doesn’t sleep well, either,” Draco offers, still looking down at Harry from behind the sofa. “She’ll wake in a second if he does.”

Harry nods; for some reason, he’s not surprised to hear this. He searches Draco’s eyes, and he does so conscious that while the decision is ostensibly his, his instinct is to reach out for Draco’s opinion, to collaborate, and he wonders exactly when that happened.

“That’s... nice of her,” Hermione says tentatively.

And it is, he realises. It really is. “Have you got a pen?”

Harry writes a careful, affirmative reply in his neatest handwriting and attaches it to the leg of the waiting owl. As it flies out into the night, he tips his head back again and Draco’s split-second unguarded smile tugs at his heart.

It isn’t until Ron’s pointed cough that Harry looks away and comes back to himself, flushing lightly. Hermione seems caught between discomfiture and approval as she turns away and shuffles her notes on the table.

“Another glass of wine, then?” Ron suggests.

“I suppose one more won’t hurt now.”

Ron disappears to retrieve the bottle and Harry allows himself to melt into the sofa. It’s not as though he’s about to take this to the usual Friday night levels, but he can feel himself relax just a little.

“What year is this, Weasley?” Draco gazes into his wineglass and then up at Ron as he re-enters the room.

Bewildered, Ron shrugs. Harry and Hermione twist around to watch the exchange.

“Buggered if I know, Malfoy. I just bought the one the bloke in the shop told me to.” Ron scrutinises the bottle with narrowed blue eyes. “That’s what I always do.”

For a moment, Draco’s face is unreadable. Then, to Harry’s delight and Ron’s astonishment, he grins, sits down on the arm of the sofa and lifts his glass in a mock toast. “Cheers, then.”

Ron’s pleased expression lasts until his eyes land on Harry and Hermione on the sofa, as though seeing them for the first time.

“You don’t sit there,” he complains, pointing his glass at Harry.

“Where should he sit?” Draco asks, amused. Unseen, his fingers brush against Harry’s nearest arm in an almost unconscious affectionate gesture.

Ron glances at him. “Well, he sits on the floor, there.” Ron points at the furry rug in front of the fireplace and Harry smirks to himself, finally realising what his friend is rambling on about. “’Mione sits on the sofa, and I sit in this chair.”

With that, Ron crosses to the chair in question and sits decisively. Harry gazes at his friends, realising that of course, Draco is unacquainted with the established set-up that is the Friday Night In.

“I see. And where will I sit?”

“I don’t know.” Ron looks to Hermione for help, and she rolls her eyes.

“Sit wherever you like, Draco. It’s not your fault that these two are so set in their ways.”

As he laughs and tries to look offended at the same time, Harry wonders if it’s OK to feel so... normal. With some effort, he drains his glass, kicks his subconscious and drags himself into his usual spot, garnering an approving nod from Ron.

Hermione purses her lips for a moment and then, with a flick of her wand, sweeps all of the files and parchments into a pile, which she then banishes to a corner of the room.

“Night off?” she suggests over the top of her wineglass.

Harry smiles gratefully. Draco, still perching on the sofa arm, arches an eyebrow in his direction.

“Come and sit here with me.” Harry sweeps his fingers through the soft fibres of the furry rug.

“On the floor?” For a person who frequently chooses to eschew furniture, Draco manages to sound impressively horror-struck.

Harry snorts. “Slum it.”

“Come on, Malfoy, sit your arse down. I can’t see Hermione,” Ron puts in.

With a dramatic sigh, Draco gets to his feet and drops down beside Harry on the rug, resting crossed arms atop drawn-up knees. He doesn’t touch Harry but the heat radiating from his body is incredible and the slight tilt to his posture exposes a thin stripe of pale back, just above his belt. Harry’s mouth waters with the compulsion to drag his tongue over it, and he looks away quickly, only to find Draco staring right at him, grey eyes darkened and hungry.

Harry inhales sharply, and Draco smirks. God, he’s beautiful. And fucking evil.

“I had a thought about the paragraph where we redefine drug-related offences,” Hermione says from the sofa, where she’s now stretched out along the cushions.

Ron groans, and then finds what Harry thinks of as his supportive smile.

“I’m listening,” says Draco.

Getting comfortable, Harry half-listens to their conversation and half-admires the way Draco’s face lights up with enthusiasm as he speaks.

“Alright, mate?”

Harry turns at Ron’s softly-voiced question, warmed by the genuine concern on the freckled face.

“Yeah. Thanks. You know me... if there’s no drama...” Harry shrugs, “...I start to get nervous.”

Ron laughs, then turns serious. “I know ’Mione’s got it covered, but you know... if there’s anything I can do...”

“I know,” Harry cuts in, saving Ron from his fumbling expression of a sentiment that Harry already understands very well.

“Excellent.”

Ron smiles, relieved. “Marvellous?”

Harry nods. “Spiffing.”

**~*~**

Having Apparated back to Grimmauld Place separately, Harry is confused to find himself alone in the living room. The house is cold after lying unoccupied for well over twelve hours, and he absently flicks his wand to light a fire in the grate as he looks around for Draco.

Rubbing his arms and striding into the cold hallway, he hears a muffled thump and a creak before Draco appears at the top of the stairs.

“There you are.”

“You Apparated straight into the bedroom,” Harry says, a smile stealing across his face.

Draco says nothing but wraps his fingers around the balustrade and smirks.

“Anybody’d think you wanted...” Harry begins, hanging back at the first step, and then Draco lets go of the balustrade, slides his fingers under the hem of his sweater and pulls it over his head in one swift motion. The end of that sentence flies out of Harry’s head and his mouth turns dry.

Still without a word, Draco drops the tangle of grey cashmere to the floor and just stands there, pale skin glowing in the shadowy semi-darkness of the staircase. Very slowly, he lifts his left hand and pushes fingers slowly and deliberately through his hair, eyes burning down into Harry’s and Harry can’t breathe.

It’s not as though he needed seducing, not after this week, but there’s no other word for what Draco is doing, standing there at the top of the stairs half-undressed, tousle-haired, in that elegant slouch. Deft fingers slide to his belt buckle and, as Harry watches, heart pounding and palms damp, the black trousers slip lower on slender hips. The fabric catches and Harry’s eyes flit from Draco’s face just long enough to realise that he’s hard, and oh, god.

Somewhere in the back of his mind is the messy tangle of... Harry’s head spins and his heart hurts and his cock aches... stuff he should be thinking about, but... but. He meets Draco’s eyes again and they flash such violent need into him that he’s scrambling up the stairs before he has time to take another breath.

A tiny smile quirks Draco’s lips and he stretches, letting messy blond hair flop back into his eyes and reaching out for Harry as he clatters onto the top step. Movement hampered by his now insistent erection, Harry grabs the offered hand and fists the other into Draco’s hair as he walks them both backwards until Draco is pressed into the wall.

He hisses as the freezing cold wall hits his back and Harry kisses him desperately, slipping his tongue between parted lips and not bothering to smother his groan at the contact. Draco drags him closer into the kiss and inhales shakily, free hand sliding over Harry’s arse, fingers curling and rubbing over sensitive places that make Harry gasp and push back against him and need to be nakedclosertouching right this minute. It’s been too long, and he almost can’t stand it.

Draco breaks the kiss, panting, to remove Harry’s shirt, and then they collide again, drawn back together with an irresistible force, skin pressed against skin and Harry is no longer cold, despite the chilled air around them. Fuck, he’s desperate for this, and Draco’s hands and mouth and hot little sighs are driving all reason out of his head.

“Need you,” Harry manages, pulling back wet-lipped from the kiss and dragging his tongue along Draco’s jawline, swiping the taste into his mouth and smiling breathlessly at Draco’s shudder.

“You’re in a hurry,” Draco whispers, turning his head to catch Harry’s mouth again as those fingers slip low enough, even through two layers of clothing, to send a thrill through Harry.

“You’re... the one who... Apparated... into the fucking bedroom,” Harry points out, as tongues slide and touch in a heated reaffirmation that easily overpowers his fragile coherency.

“I did,” Draco gasps, “and yet, here we are, attempting to have a conversation.” Heated grey eyes pierce Harry as Draco lets his head drop back against the wall, and the sweat-slippery hand in his grips hard. “Emphasis... on the attempted.” Breathing ragged, Draco smiles, and Harry is lost.

“Draco,” he begins, and then runs out of words. He supposes he doesn’t need them anyway.

He drops feverish kisses all over the pale chest, stomach and hips as though it’s been far too long since he was last allowed to, sinking into a crouch and inhaling the scent of arousal first through trouser fabric and then warm, damp cotton as he hurriedly strips away Draco’s clothing. Liquid heat pools at the base of his spine as he mouths the hot, hard flesh through the fabric and it jerks in response.

Breathing hard, he pulls blindly at Draco’s stupidly secure shoelaces; the soft laughter from above turning into an almost-sob as he reaches up to drag both layers of clothing down to Draco’s knees and licks a long, hot stripe along his cock whilst continuing to struggle with the laces.

“Harry,” he rasps, and then there’s a hand in his hair, urging him to continue.

As if he’d stop; the taste and scent and heavy, warm weight on his tongue fill his senses and stroke the ache inside him that belongs to Draco.

Finally, with a last triumphant pull, the laces are conquered and as Harry slides his mouth over Draco’s cock and attempts to help him kick away his clothes, he thinks perhaps there’s a spell he could have used, but he’s fucked if he can remember what it is.

The hard, varnished floorboards of the landing hurt his knees but he daren’t move an inch in case he loses this agonising, delicious momentum of everything coming together after far too long. Pressing a quick palm to his neglected cock, he groans and Draco hisses and pushes into his mouth at the unexpected vibration.

“If you don’t stop, I’m going to... oh, fuck, sorry,” Draco warns him breathlessly, and it’s the apology that startles Harry into pulling back, enclosing Draco’s saliva-slick cock in a firm grip and looking up into his eyes. Lips parted, hair everywhere, grey eyes meeting his and Harry knows he’s right on the edge, but he only grips harder and shakes his head desperately.

“Wait... please wait.”

Draco’s tongue darts out to lick his dry bottom lip; Harry watches him swallow and nod, understanding quickening his breathing. He closes his eyes and slides to the floor in a messy, long-limbed heap and Harry releases him for as long as it takes to struggle out of his remaining clothing. Draco looks him right in the eye and slides half of his right hand into his mouth, slowly and deliberately. Cursing under his breath, Harry kicks off his half-untied shoes with a spike of petty satisfaction and lowers himself to sit astride Draco’s thighs.

The close, warm contact is perfect, and this time he allows himself to enjoy it completely, holding still for a moment before wrapping his hand around Draco’s cock once more and watching his face carefully. It’s not before those clever fingers are back, wet and stroking exactly where they are needed, without restriction now and Harry lets his head fall forward, murmuring frantic encouragement against damp blond hair as they slide inside him, stretching and searching.

Urgency grips them both in that moment of please hurry and need you and hands that don’t usually shake. Probably too soon, but he doesn’t care, Harry pulls Draco’s hand away and rises on his knees, taking perhaps half a second to appreciate the open, flawed beauty of what is laid out underneath him before he’s sinking down onto the hard cock in his hand. Slowly, and all the way down in one, eyes screwed shut and feeling every bit of hard-delicious-yes, thank fuck for that finally inside him.

Draco’s hands come up to grasp his hips, and as Harry inhales sharply and moves, they grip harder, nails digging into his skin and somehow pulling him down harder with each stroke. The sensation is so intense it borders on painful, but it’s exactly what Harry wants, what they both want. Need.

This, he knows, is going to be over in no time and all he can do is let go and give himself over completely to the frantic, heated reconnection; he leans forward awkwardly to capture Draco’s mouth one last time before his head is thrown back and he’s able to do nothing more than ride it out, back arched and eyes closed.

One hand braced against the wall beside Draco’s head, the other gripping his cock, which barely needs the stimulation, he lifts up and pushes down faster, harder, out of rhythm but meeting every one of Draco’s upward thrusts and it doesn’t matter because they are both coming apart. The sharp grooves of varnished boards dig into his knees and his fingers slip-slide on the painted wall.

“Harry, oh... fuck.” Draco’s broken whimper is a warning; Harry’s eyes fly open in time to watch his eyes as he jerks and comes helplessly with his name on his lips. It’s possibly the most intimate, most erotic thing Harry has ever seen, and as he leans back, clenches hard around Draco and cries out, spilling himself over his hand and Draco’s chest in powerful spurts, he realises just how much he’s missed it.

The force of his release drains him, and with a sated sigh, he slumps against Draco and attaches his slack mouth to a warm, pale shoulder. Draco strokes his back lazily and doesn’t complain when Harry absently presses his sticky hand to his chest.

“I have a question,” Draco says softly.

Heart pounding, Harry smiles against his shoulder. “Yes.”

“You haven’t heard the question yet,” Draco complains, but the smile in his voice is blinding.

“Doesn’t matter. Yes.”

“Yes is all very well...” Draco pauses and kisses Harry’s neck softly, “and it is. But what if the real question was: ‘Is it alright if I smear Weasley in butter and lick him all over?’”

Harry snorts inelegantly, caught somewhere between disgust and amusement. “Was it?”

“No.”

“Thank fuck for that. I can’t see that ending well for... well, any of us, really.”

Draco sighs and gently pushes Harry away so they can both struggle to their feet. For a moment, they both lean, naked and sticky, against the wall as they regain their equilibrium.

“It was a general musing on why exactly we were having sex in the hallway, actually.”

Harry grins. “Because we can.

Draco laughs and stalks into the bedroom. Harry hangs back a moment and watches him, wondering how it’s possible to look so dignified with no clothes on; he’s certain he doesn’t. Oh well.

As he makes the short journey himself, he winces with every step and Draco is certainly not helping matters by regarding him steadily from the bed, eyes gleaming silver in the dim light and looking exceedingly fucking pleased with himself.

Harry scowls ineffectually and flops down on top of the sheets. “Be good. Do you think I can call Aquiline and ask for another day off because I can’t walk straight?”

“You should, I’d like to see her face when you did.”

Turning very carefully, Harry rests his head on Draco’s slowly lifting chest and closes his eyes. Despite the glorious satiated afterglow rippling around him, now that the desperation has dissipated, reality is sneaking back in and speeding his heart rate unpleasantly. He doesn’t know what makes him ask; perhaps his self-control dissolved somewhere during that spectacular orgasm.

“Why aren’t you freaking out?”

There’s no answer for quite some time, and then: “I have no idea.”

“So—”

“Shut up, before I change my mind and decide that freaking out is, in fact, an excellent idea,” says Draco, stretching sweaty and languid and tangling a hand in Harry’s hair.

“Just this once, then.”

**~*~**

Despite Hermione’s misplaced concerns, Clive is perfectly fine when Harry—pressed for time—Floos over to the Manor before work to check on him. In fact, he’s almost happy, and Harry is once again impressed by his apparent resilience. Still, however ‘fine’ he appears to be, he’s still not sleeping through the night and remains quiet and solemn whenever Harry attempts to engage him in conversation, and it’s this fact that ends Harry’s wavering over the matter of the funeral.

As usual, everyone has an opinion and no qualms in offering it up, but—bizarrely—in the end, it’s Marley’s, ‘a funeral is no place for a child’ that wins out over Ginny’s equally impassioned, ‘you should let him say goodbye properly’.

The service itself takes place on a drizzly Tuesday morning, and Harry and Draco are the only mourners. In an effort to protect Romilda’s dignity from media vultures, they attend under Polyjuice disguise and stand close together but not touching under a black umbrella as a sad-faced wizard in traditional robes mutters well-worn, mystical words over the fresh grave.

Harry spends much of the short service wondering if anyone else is going to turn up, but when the officiator inclines his head and walks away, leaving him and Draco alone under their umbrella, Harry realises that she truly had no one. It’s a bleak thought, and it strikes Harry hard.

Beside him, Draco is inhaling deeply; the fresh scent of wet spring grass and earth apparently pleases him, though his eyes are serious and sad. If he’s honest, Harry’s just glad of his company. And he knows he has made the right decision for once. As, apparently, has Marley.

It’s this revelation, along with his post-pond promise to Draco, which prompts Harry to take a deep breath, swallow his pride and have a conversation with Mephisto Marley the next chance he gets.

That chance comes just a day later, when Harry drops in during his lunch break from Reversals—though he no longer has a child to drop off at that time, the habit has stuck, and today Harry walks into the East Wing with a half-formed idea of persuading Draco to test out the efficacy of that ‘Knock and WAIT’ notice.

As he steps into the lounge, however, his hopes are immediately dashed.

Draco, Ginny, Fyzal and Annette are seated around one end of the long table, surrounded by paper and little coloured pins and exchanging heated words. Ginny has her head in her hands and looks utterly exasperated; Fyzal is pointing frantically at something unseen on the paper and shaking his head; Annette is attempting to appeal to Ginny and Draco has both hands flat on the table and is wearing his scariest ‘I’m going to end someone’ scowl.

“Open day,” Marley explains, coming up beside Harry and following his gaze.

“Ah.”

“Like children, they are,” Marley opines, and Harry thinks that’s pretty rich, coming from the youngest and arguably the most childish member of the whole team, but he keeps the thought to himself.

“Well, it is this Saturday.” Harry sighs and sits down heavily on the end of the table furthest from the argument. “I wish I had more time to help out.”

“Can’t you take time off from the hospital?” Unexpectedly, Marley sits down next to him and crunches into a shiny green apple with straight, white teeth.

Harry bristles, but reminds himself that it’s a perfectly reasonable question. He glances at Marley, who pauses in his chewing and smiles at him. Harry sighs. “No. Not during a specialty rotation, I can’t. It’s just bad timing, really. I finish in Reversals on Friday.”

“Reversing what?” Marley wants to know, decimating another huge section of apple.

“The Dark Arts, in theory.”

Marley’s dark eyes widen. “Surely that’s not possible. Reversing all of the Dark Arts.”

Harry can’t resist lifting his eyes to the ceiling. Just a little bit. “We just work on a case by case basis, Marley. We’re not trying to save the world.”

“Oh, and when you’re so good at it,” Marley smirks. “Wonder Boy,” he adds.

His eyes meet Harry’s as he takes another obnoxious bite, and for the first time, the irritation that accompanies the unwanted address is dulled. He’s uncertain why exactly that is, but he suspects that since Romilda’s death, Marley just can’t rile him to the levels he once did.

“Don’t call me Wonder Boy,” he says, but there’s very little bite to it.

“It’s a compliment,” Marley insists, inspecting his apple. Harry half-wonders if he’s going to eat the core, too. Apparently satisfied, the dark eyes fall upon Harry’s wrist as Harry lifts his hand to adjust his glasses. “Can you feel that?” He points.

The string, which has slipped down under Harry’s cuff, is hidden, but Marley is looking at the pale Promise band. He had decided right away that the Foundations team should be informed about the situation— even if that did include Marley—just for ease of communication, but no one has ever asked him that before.

“Um... sometimes,” Harry answers eventually, still mildly astonished that he’s having a civil conversation with this man. So far, so good. He’s still a pain in the arse, but as he sees more of this eager-to-please behaviour before it strays casually into obnoxious arrogance, he’s beginning to wonder if, just maybe, the super-cool Irishman is actually a little bit insecure.

“Over my dead body, Ginevra!” Draco cries at the other end of the table; Harry and Marley both turn.

“That can be arranged,” Ginny mumbles, sticking a silver pin into the table with unnecessary vigour.

Guiltily entertained, Harry snorts and turns away. He shares a brief, surprising smile with Marley before he even realises what he’s doing, and then Marley is flicking his apple core into the air and banishing it with a slash of his wand, and Harry is back to eye-rolling.

“So, alright, does it hurt, or...” Marley trails off, distracted, as someone knocks on the exterior doors. The warded doors. Harry glances around—everyone who should be in here is already in here. Draco meets his eyes as he rises and crosses to the door, and he looks equally confused.

He pulls open the doors, and in steps Narcissa and her two small shadows. Intrigued, Harry chews on his thumbnail and leans back on the table.

“Do excuse the interruption,” she announces smoothly, glancing around at the startled team, “but Clive and I have been talking about our mothers. And now, Clive would like to hear about all of your mothers, too.”

Harry looks down at Clive, who is hanging onto Zeus, chewing his lip and staring at the silent adults with eyes that are part terrified and part hopeful. They are also suspiciously shiny, and Harry wonders if he’s been crying again. Either way, he’s starting to understand that Narcissa has some unique and surprising ways of dealing with grief.

Following her early example, he had haltingly explained to Clive that his parents were no longer alive, but that was as far as he’d dared to go. This, he never expected, and yet as he sits there, Fyzal, Ginny and Annette abandon their squabble and settle around Harry’s end of the table. Someone, possibly Marley, Summons a chair for Narcissa, and she sits graciously.

Maybe it’s because it’s instinctive to want to help a grieving child, or maybe it’s because one does not disobey Narcissa Malfoy, but one by one, they comply.

Fyzal rummages in his pocket and draws a small photograph of a pretty, dark-haired lady from a sleek leather wallet, which he offers to Clive.

“That’s my mother. Her name’s Rayna, and she’s a writer. My father says that she makes the best spaghetti bolognese in the world, and he should know. He’s Italian,” Fyz clarifies. “Mum’s from Kent.”

Harry smiles and watches Clive examine the photograph.

“I don’t have a picture,” Ginny offers, and Clive looks at her. “But my mum’s called Molly and she likes cooking, too...”

Harry’s attention drifts; he already knows plenty about Molly Weasley. He glances at Draco, who is apparently noticing Harry and Marley’s voluntary proximity, if the mild surprise and flicker of pleasure in the grey eyes is any indication. As though sensing Harry’s gaze, he looks up and smiles, and Harry feels rather proud of himself. He can be a grown-up, after all. It’s a revelation.

After what feels like ten seconds, a sharp kick to his ankle startles him and he realises that all eyes are upon him. Marley kicks him again, and it takes every bit of restraint he has not to kick him back.

“Well,” he attempts. “I didn’t really know my mother, but... her name was Lily, and she was... she had red hair, and green eyes like mine. She was kind and really clever, and...” The words dry up and Harry shrugs. Smiles at Clive, even though everything inside suddenly hurts.

He doesn’t mean to do it, but his eyes lock with Narcissa’s and they share a brief, sparkling something that he can’t name, but that warms his insides and feels curiously like acceptance.

“What about Drake’s mummy?” Clive asks eventually.

I am Drake’s mummy,” Narcissa says, amongst the muffled sounds of amusement from the team.

Clive’s eyes become round and he casts a wary glance at Draco. “I forgot.”

How?’ Harry mouths to Ginny, who happens to catch his eye, and she grins.

“Must you, Mother?” Draco asks, expression pained.

“Must I what, darling?”

“Must you encourage the—” Draco lowers his voice, “—the duck thing?”

Narcissa’s smirk is a thing to behold, and Harry watches their interaction with unashamed delight. It’s at that moment that he makes a decision—a stopgap decision, at very least. There are three days to go until Open Day, two days until the end of his Reversals rotation. To say that things are frantic is probably a huge understatement, and yet Clive is as settled as an essentially orphaned child being looked after by a rag-tag team of Malfoys, ex-addicts and Harry Potter can conceivably be.

And so, Harry opts to avoid unsettling him until necessary. Until after all of the commotion is over, and he has time to look through all the stuff Hermione gave him and make that list that she keeps on talking about.

Feeling a little better, he gnaws on his ragged thumbnail again and glances at his claimed wrist.

I’m doing my best, Romilda, he says silently. Hope it’s OK.

“Harry, please reason with her,” Draco is saying, and he snaps to attention.

Glancing between them, Harry surmises that mother and son are having some kind of contest to see who can possibly look the most disdainful. All arched eyebrows, cool eyes and sardonically twisted mouths, Narcissa’s and Draco’s expressions are almost mirror images of one another.

Yes, it’s some kind of Malfoy stand-off, and he’s being asked to referee. Harry chews his nail some more and hides his smile in his hand.

“Not getting involved,” he advises.

Funny how things change.

**~*~**

The light breeze lifts blond, black and caramel hair as the three of them make unhurried, crunching progress down to the gates of the Manor later on that night. Harry wouldn’t put it past Evil Peacock to strike under cover of darkness, and is carrying Clive just to be on the safe side.

The little boy is silent, regarding the bright stars in the pitch black sky; Harry and Draco’s conversation is a soft murmur that he hardly seems to hear.

“I don’t know which one she is!” he says suddenly, sounding upset.

“Hm?” Harry shifts Clive so he can see his face, and they pause in the middle of the path.

“I keep looking, and I don’t know... there’s too many.” Clive stares up at the sky and sighs tremulously.

Comprehension dawning, Harry nudges Draco with his elbow. “This is your area, I think.”

The moonlight illuminates Draco’s brief flash of panic and turns his widened eyes iridescent. After a moment, he exhales into the cold night air and follows Clive’s gaze upward.

“The brightest one, of course.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know,” Draco says, head still tipped back as though he’s afraid to make eye contact with the little boy. “It has to be whichever one is the brightest to you.

Harry has to slide a foot back through the gravel to steady himself as Clive twists around in his arms, frantically searching the night sky. When he darts a glance at Draco, he’s still staring straight up with an odd little smile on his face; Harry instinctively goes to touch him, but realises just in time that he has his hands full of small, wriggling child.

“There!” Clive cries at last, pointing.

“Ah,” says Harry, and they all admire the spot of sky beyond Clive’s outstretched finger.

He wonders what exactly makes the Malfoys so adept at dealing with grief, and what makes him so incompetent. They’ve all seen their fair share of death, after all. As a small hand on his shoulder breaks him out of his musings, Harry shakes away the thought and starts walking again. He’s also curious to know just who Draco was looking for among the stars; he doubts it was Lucius Malfoy.

“Are they all people?” Clive asks suddenly.

“No. Not all of them.” Draco scans the sky once more as they walk, and then points, tracing a jagged shape with his finger. “See, there’s Draco.”

“The duck,” Clive says knowledgably.

“No.” Draco glances at Harry, looking extremely put out.

Harry bites the inside of his lip, trying very hard not to laugh. “I think he’s a dragon, not a duck,” he manages, just about getting his voice under control.

“Oh.” Clive frowns, puzzled.

“That woman is in so much trouble,” Draco mutters under his breath.

Still hiding a smile, Harry calculates that it’ll still be at least five minutes before they reach the end of the drive, and in an effort to distract Draco from any thoughts duck-related, Harry decides to ask him exactly what he and the others were arguing about earlier in the afternoon.

“Departments,” he offers cryptically.

“What?”

“Departments. Remember when Ginevra went to the Muggle rehab centre? One of the things she found out was that everyone gets a job to do in the house. They all belong to a department. Cleaning and cooking and gardening, things like that. It’s so that they can learn practical skills they might have missed out on while they were using. Isn’t that intriguing?”

Draco speaks quickly and with enthusiasm, and sure enough, when Harry looks at him, his eyes are gleaming. He’s about to ask what then, exactly, was cause for a heated argument, but something else snags his attention first.

“You’re going to teach the patients to cook? You?!”

“Residents,” Draco corrects.

“What?”

Draco smiles. “Residents, not patients. We’re a psycho-social model now,” he says proudly.

Harry frowns, partly because he’s lost and partly because there’s a bit of hair dangling into his eyes that he has no free hands to swipe away. “Anytime would be good for you to start speaking English.”

“I’m sure we have already had this conversation.” Draco absently flicks the bit of hair away with cold fingers. “It just means that we’re trying to focus on behaviours and psychological processes that lead to addiction in order to prevent relapse.”

“Isn’t that what you were already doing?”

Draco sighs and kicks up gravel absently. “Yes, but now that we’re away from the hospital, we don’t have to call them patients any more, which is good, because that’s all very clinical, and it doesn’t reflect what we’re trying to do. If Stonewell Hall can have residents, then so can we.”

Stirred by his stubborn assertion, Harry smiles. Clive gazes at him, blue eyes full of intrigue.

“Alright, that makes sense to me. Getting back to the point, then... cooking?”

“No, I have no business teaching anyone to cook. As you well know,” Draco huffs, and then shoots Harry a very dangerous smile indeed. “You, however, could.”

“What? No, Draco.”

“Only—”

No, Draco. I am not teaching your residents how to cook.”

Harry vague sense of panic only deepens into foreboding when Draco’s grin flashes white in the darkness and he shrugs elegantly. They stop at the gates and Draco sends them sliding open with a complicated flick of his wand.

“We’ll see.”

**~*~**

Friday is a trying day for all concerned. Harry is distracted at regular intervals throughout the morning and afternoon, wondering how things are going over at the Manor as the team scrambles to make sure everything is perfect for the scrutiny of countless professionals, ex-patients, and curious onlookers in less than twenty-four hours’ time.

At the same time, he’s almost turning in circles trying to tie up loose ends with all of his Reversals patients as he makes last-minute notations and consults in preparation to hand them over to other Healers. Unlike Gen One, Reversals has many long-term patients and Harry finds himself almost sad to leave them behind. Even Mr Magellan the spitter has demonstrated a unique unhinged charm over the last four weeks.

He can’t quite believe it’s his last day here. In some ways, he’ll be glad to return to his usual routine, to the rapid turnover of Gen One and the effortless camaraderie of shifts spent with Cecile, Eloise and Terry—between rotations and Foundations and childcare, Harry has barely seen his friends over the past fortnight and he misses them.

Not only that, but he’ll be grateful to be rid of the painful reminder of death and failure that is Dark Arts Reversals, room seven. While he doubts it’ll be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, he’s still sick of looking at the empty room each time he passes.

Still, even with that shadow hanging over him, Harry can’t deny he has learned an incredible amount, and he’s going to miss his new co-workers; in particular, Kelly, who quite unexpectedly hugs him and then jumps back as though she’s expecting to be told off, and Aquiline, who settles on the edge of her desk for their very last meeting and smiles at him with her pointed teeth.

“You leave us with more than you bargained for, Healer Potter.”

Harry concentrates on the fragrant steam emanating from his cup; he’s going to miss Kelly’s coffee, too. “You could say that.”

“I shan’t rake it over. It’s not as though you need my assistance for that, is it?” Aquiline pierces Harry with her dark stare until he lifts his head. “I thought not. Do you know what first interested me about you?”

“No, Healer Aquiline.”

“Your persistence. Some would call it foolish... myself, I believe it a strength. You did not disappoint me.”

Harry swallows hard. Fights down the urge to argue. “That’s... thank you.”

“You will be hearing from Augustus regarding your evaluation,” she says, a wry tilt to her smile. “But take this, just from me. You are an above-and-beyond Healer, sometimes to your own detriment, but this is not something which can be changed. You have talent. You have everything necessary. Do not lose your nerve.”

Harry exhales very slowly, an inexplicable flush creeping up the side of his neck and a temporary jolt of lightness in his chest. As she rises and gathers her things, Harry stands and then hesitates at the door.

“Thank you for everything, Healer Aquiline. I really appreciate it.”

She stills, back to him, frozen for long seconds. When she turns, arms full of files, her dark eyes are bright. “I was wrong—you are still grateful. Healer Potter, you continue to surprise me.”

Harry smiles at the woman who is a thousand times the mentor Tremellen will ever be. “I’m always grateful for the things people give me,” he advises. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

**~*~**

Chaos greets him at the Manor, and though he leaps right in and attempts to help, it’s difficult to separate the frustrated snarking from the genuine requests for assistance, and within a couple of hours, his head is throbbing. People are running, skidding and clattering from room to room, moving things around and cursing without restraint.

After one demand too many for the whereabouts of some mysterious object or other that he knows nothing about, Harry opts to take Clive and return to Grimmauld Place. It’s after ten, anyway, and the little boy is asleep in his arms as he Apparates into the dark house.

He knows—hopes—Draco won’t be too far behind him, but as Harry puts Clive to bed, showers and dresses in soft lounging-around clothes, he finds himself in the rare position of having nothing to do. At a loss, he wanders into the living room, scrubbing at his damp, clean hair, and his eyes rest upon the shimmering cover of Narcissa’s book, which he has yet to open.

“I suspect you’ll enjoy this, Mr Potter,” he mumbles to himself, picking up the book and flopping onto the sofa with it.

He arranges himself comfortably with one arm dangling onto the floor and opens the book.

Chapter One.

...is as far as Harry gets before his thin-stretched concentration deserts him. He tries again and again, but although he is staring at the page, the words are swimming into a mess of black squiggles before his eyes, and something in the back of his head is insisting that if he has nothing to do, there are more productive activities than this.

Suddenly Aquiline’s words are resonating in his mind and, determination renewed, he scowls at the first page of the book and tries again.

He is still scowling at the chapter heading when Draco returns home almost an hour later.

Relieved for the distraction, Harry looks up and winces at Draco’s expression. There are dark smudges under his weary eyes, and a hard line between his eyebrows. As he stares down at Harry, he sighs and leans heavily on the back of the sofa.

“That bad?”

“Harry, they are an absolute nightmare. All of them. I suspect I am, too, so... I don’t want to talk about it. Either it will all go horribly, catastrophically wrong tomorrow, or it won’t.” Eyes sharpening, he reaches to touch the book now sitting closed on Harry’s chest. “Where did you get that?”

“Your mother gave it to me. Lent it to me, at any rate.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow. “I see. And why are you grimacing at it as though it’s done you some sort of disservice? That book is a classic.”

Harry glances at the book, dubious. “Is it? I wouldn’t know; I can’t concentrate.”

Grey eyes gaze down at him thoughtfully for a while, and then Draco leans down, picks up the book, and examines it. “Alright, then.”

“Alright what?” Harry stares back, eyebrows knitted. “Give me my book back.”

Draco merely smiles, and the expression lifts his tired features. He shoves Harry’s feet away so he can sit on the sofa and stretch his legs across the floor, not bothering to remove his shoes.

“No. Come here.”

“Where?” Harry leans up on his elbows, eyeing Draco’s position, squished up against the far end of the sofa.

“Wherever, just...” Draco rolls his eyes and yanks Harry’s pyjama pants until he gets the idea and settles his feet back in Draco’s lap. Puzzled but comfortable, Harry sinks back against his green cushions and watches Draco. The gentle hand now resting on his flannel-covered shin is at odds with Draco’s harassed expression and Harry isn’t sure what to think, so he waits.

Draco sighs and opens the book.

Dog Rose, by Gerda Selby. Chapter one,” he reads. “Contrary to popular belief, Rex Cardonia was not a man of limited intellect. He, like his father before him, and his father before him, and in all likelihood, like so many Cardonias, stretching right back to the time when a wizard first picked up a bit of wood and decided to find out what it did, was simply cursed with a life-threatening amount of stubbornness.”

Draco pauses and Harry stares at him.

“What are you doing?”

Looking up, Draco lifts an eyebrow. “I would have thought that would be obvious. I suspect you absorb information better this way, anyway. Why do you think I got you that box?”

“I do, actually, but...” Harry stops, secretly pleased that Draco notices things like that. And yet, still... “You’re going to read it to me?”

Draco just smiles faintly and runs his fingers down the inside of Harry’s calf so gently that his toes clench and he stretches pleasurably into the touch. “In accordance with the pattern of these things, Rex and his tenacity co-existed in relative peace for quite some years. Tradition dictated, however, that things would start to go horribly awry for the Cardonia men when they met a beautiful woman. And, in the summer of his twenty-fifth year, Rex Cardonia met Susanna.”

“This is a romance?” Harry puts in.

“Not completely. It’s... it’s just a good story. Be quiet and listen, or you’re going to fall apart when my mother gives you a test on it.”

“Wouldn’t put it past her,” Harry mumbles, but he falls silent anyway, closing his eyes and listening to the pleasant cadence of Draco’s softened upper-class voice as it effortlessly draws him into the story of pureblood Rex and his entanglement with a family of Squibs.

Somewhere in the middle of the fifth chapter, Harry’s eyes become heavy, and he drifts gratefully into the best sleep he’s had in weeks.

**~*~**

“Dining room and then bedrooms, Marley, for the last time!” Harry looks up at the anguished bellow from beyond the lounge door. “Because I fucking said so!”

It’s eight-thirty on Saturday morning, and ninety minutes until, well, utter disaster, if Draco is to be believed, but Harry suspects he’s catastrophizing somewhat. As far as he can see, everything looks great. The rooms are clean and sparkling; the fittings gleam with newness and every fabric and piece of soft furnishing just sings quality.

They have secured a considerable, steady income from the sale of Draco’s Chromia Detox, due in no small part to the efforts of Shelagh Carmichael and, Harry suspects, Healer Aquiline, but in order to get the project off the ground both he and Draco have made significant personal investment, and it shows. Nothing is flashy, but the institutional edge of the old Chem Dep is completely absent here. It is a sanctuary, a beautiful, safe place for damaged people to put their lives back together, which, Harry reflects, is exactly what Draco had wanted.

The first two patients... no, residents, are expected in three days’ time, and several more the following week; Draco’s admissions book is filling up at a gratifying rate. Today is a chance for the community and, unfortunately, the media, to get a good look at what exactly has been going on behind the gates of Malfoy Manor over recent months.

Harry watches Draco stalk into the lounge, eyes blazing, and struggles to keep his attention on the detailed checklist he’s supposed to be helping Fyz to complete. Draco’s clearly balancing on his last nerve, but fuck, he looks good. An immaculately cut charcoal-grey jacket and tailored trousers hang elegantly on his lean frame; his hair feathers over his forehead and just wisps over his crisp, white shirt-collar at the back, and there’s an crackling air of authority around him that Harry finds intoxicating.

Restless, he smoothes invisible creases from his dark green shirt and waves to Ginny as she enters the lounge, smart pale robes swishing around her.

“Hey,” she says, and looks over her shoulder, distracted.

Harry follows her gaze and after a moment, Neville appears in the doorway, carrying a large, unwieldy box with leaves poking out of the top.

“Harry,” he sighs, looking relieved. “Brought you a few bits, because... well, every rehab centre needs plants,” he says uncertainly, offering the box to Harry. “They all have calming properties, and this one here...”

Neville falls silent when Harry smiles but steps back, indicating Draco, who is talking to Annette with his arms folded. “Not my rehab centre, Nev.”

Dark eyes meet his, terrified and fierce all at once, and then Neville nods and slowly approaches Draco, box held in front of him like a shield. Harry watches, Ginny at his side, as Draco tries to hide his surprise at the sight of his former classmate, and then as Nev explains the various specimens inside the box.

Knowing them both so well, it’s easy to see the feelings they attempt to conceal—Draco’s honest bewilderment at the gift, and Nev’s ingrained fear of his one-time tormentor, even though he’s now older, more confident and accomplished in his own right.

Harry doesn’t catch Draco’s words, but he does catch the cautious smile and the handshake before Neville seizes on Ginny’s offer of a quick tour and escapes.

**~*~**

It’s a bright, clear day, and warm enough for people to wander around the grounds once they’ve had their guided tours—at least, Draco says, that’s the plan. Harry stands out on the front steps with minutes to go, just breathing in the sweet scented air and idly scanning the horizon for feathered threats.

Annette has made little silver pins for the Foundations staff team to indicate whom the visitors should approach with their enquiries, and now he stares at her at she bustles out onto the step and starts fastening one to his shirt.

“Am I a member of staff?”

Annette frowns. “Of course you are, silly goose. You know as much about this place as any of us, except maybe Draco. And he’s always saying there wouldn’t even be a ‘this place’ without you.”

Warmed, Harry glances at the sparkling pin. “Is he?”

Annette smiles serenely and her copper chicken earrings sway in the breeze. “Goodness, Harry. I never lie.”

“She doesn’t, you know. It’s sickening.”

Draco appears behind Harry and Annette slips away, an odd little smile on her face, her beaded sandals slapping on the marble floor of the entrance hall as she retreats. Draco walks right out onto the edge of the portico, chin lifted and shoulders squared. Only the flicker of his fingers down at his sides gives him away, but it’s enough for Harry.

Without a word, he stands behind Draco and captures those fingers in his own. Rests his chin on the dark-clad shoulder and drags in a deep breath.

“Would you judge me if I said I felt like throwing up?”

Harry smiles. “No, but it’s probably better if you don’t. You know... decorum-wise.”

Draco snorts, and then glances down the drive, stiffening. “Oh, fuck... people are coming.”

“So they are. Mouth closed, then.”

He probably deserves the sharp elbow to his ribs, but it still really hurts.

**~*~**

Draco, unsurprisingly, does not throw up on himself or any of the visitors.

His brief welcoming speech goes without a hitch. Harry stands near the front of the assembled crowd next to Hermione and listens to Draco’s sparing, elegant words with quiet pride. At his other side, Ginny is whispering discreetly to Ron, and he’s nodding, looking supremely uncomfortable in his smart robes. Uncomfortable but present, Harry concedes, and Hermione’s excitable grip of his elbow tightens.

Once the tours are underway, Harry finds himself standing back and watching well over a hundred people milling around on the front lawn of the Manor. People Harry’s amazed to see setting foot on Malfoy soil, just walking around on a sunny Saturday morning, mingling and eating weird miniaturised food on sticks.

He spots prominent members of the local community, Ministry employees, ex-Chem Dep patients and what seems like half of the St Mungo’s staff team. Eloise is stuck at the hospital, but Cecile and Terry are around somewhere—probably arguing—as are several members of the Weasley family and a couple of imposing characters Harry doesn’t recognise.

“That is a very, very rich man indeed,” Draco replies when he asks. “And this is a great way to encourage donations from people with big vaults and little brains.” Draco pastes on his ‘I’m a philanthropist, yes I am’ smile and leaves Harry’s side to shake hands with a very fat man wearing terrifying embroidered satin robes.

**~*~**

Harry pokes at his sparkling water and continues his uninterrupted observation... his occasionally-interrupted observation. Though he has seen a Prophet photographer skulking around, there’s as yet no sign of the dreaded Skeeter, and most of the real guests seem more interested in speaking to Draco than speaking to him, which makes a nice change. He answers the questions that are directed at him, but otherwise hangs back and watches Draco at work.

Also standing back from the mingling crowds is what Draco has taken to referring to as the Unholy Trio: Narcissa, Clive, and Zeus.

Harry doesn’t know what he expected Mrs Malfoy to do today, but he definitely never expected her to put on light formal robes and step out into the fray. Under the shade of a broad-leafed tree, she stands perfectly straight, looking cool and regal as she surveys the product of her son’s hard work and eyes the important guests with a disdain that makes Harry want to smile.

Idly, Harry watches Clive as he tries to capture Narcissa’s attention; he has one hand on Zeus’ collar and the other fisted into her mint-green silk robes, crinkling them beyond all belief. After a moment, she merely looks down and nods slowly as he speaks, one hand resting on cowlicky hair and eyes fixed upon the round blue ones gazing up at her with complete, undiluted awe.

“Ah, there he is,” Fyz says, drawing level with Harry’s side. “Thought he was hiding from me.”

“Who?”

“Seb.” Fyz grins and sucks a whole cocktail sausage into his mouth.

Harry scans the crowd for the skinny, wavy-haired man. “Where, then?”

“There, by that tree.” Fyzal points with his empty cocktail stick. “Talking to... bugger me, is that Marguerite?”

Eyes drawn to two figures conversing under a weeping willow, Harry frowns. “Yeah, I... I can see Marguerite, but I...” Harry squints. “That bloke with her is Seb?”

“Yes.”

“But... bloody hell.”

The pale, skinny, scruffy young man Harry remembers is almost unrecognisable. This Seb is glowing with healthy colour and dressed in fashionable robes that Harry strongly suspects Fyz has had something to do with. The wavy hair, though shiny, is still unruly, and his posture is still terrible, but there’s a genuine smile on his face as he chats to Marguerite that Harry doesn’t ever remember seeing before. “Look at him. That’s amazing.”

Fyz grins. “I know. Impressive what five months clean will do for someone, isn’t it?”

“I wonder if Draco’s seen him. He’ll be so pleased... and hey, it’s five months for you, too?”

“Yep. Just over, actually. Good old Draco.”

Harry laughs. “I don’t think he’d appreciate the old part much.”

“Probably not,” Fyz concedes, shaking his head at Marley as he emerges from the house with a group of people.

After a minute or so of silent gesturing, Fyz sighs and excuses himself. Harry watches him stride across the grass toward Marley, and then melts back into the crowd. To his surprise, as he approaches Draco, so does George Weasley.

“Harry. Malfoy,” he says pleasantly.

“Weasley. Thank you for coming.”

“I came to see the man who stole my best employee,” he says. “And check out what kind of set-up he’s got that’s better than my shop.” George smiles wryly.

“I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, what can I say?” Draco says, but his eyes are warm. “Have you left something lovely in our comment book?”

“Yes. A situation vacant advertisement, written in rhyming verse,” George deadpans.

Harry snorts and turns away to hide his smile.

“Look at what we did,” Draco almost whispers as they are left alone. “Look at this.”

“I know. It’s amazing.” Looking out over the sea of people, Harry is filled with a violent surge of well-being and pride that overrides just about everything, and when fingertips slide under string and then skate over his palm, he can’t keep it in. Mouth twitching, he keeps his eyes on the visitors. “If I told you I was very proud of you, would you hex me?”

“Probably,” Draco murmurs, returning his hand to his side. “But thank you.”

Humming contentedly, Harry catches the sharp, dark eyes of Healer Aquiline; she stands near the edge of the pond, holding a glass and dressed in black rather than the lime green and white Harry associates with her, which is possibly why he hasn’t noticed her before. As he looks, she nods once and then gazes pointedly at something across the grass near the house.

Following her gaze, Harry fumes. “Fucking Tremellen, look! Did you know he was here?”

“No, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” Draco sighs, turning to see.

The slimy bastard is dressed in obnoxiously bright robes and peering down at a valiant Ginny as she nods and gesticulates and attempts to communicate with him. The temptation to discreetly draw his wand and cast something horribly humiliating grips Harry for approximately half a second, before something he can’t name makes him turn around and look at Aquiline again.

As though she’s been waiting, the dark-haired Healer flashes pointed teeth at Harry in a slow smile, slides her wand out of the end of her sleeve and murmurs something he can’t quite catch. Draco’s delighted bark of laughter steals Harry’s attention and he spins back around to see...

...oh, she hasn’t. Except, quite obviously, she has.

Tremellen is still standing in front of the house with Ginny, but his formal robes have been replaced by a full-length, sequinned, scarlet evening dress, stiletto heels and a curly black wig. Horrified, the man takes several staggering steps back from a giggling Ginny, stumbles, and lands on his arse. The black wig slips down over one eye, and the moustache-quivering-murderous expression on his fury-flushed face is the funniest thing Harry has seen in years.

Beside him, Draco is laughing himself hoarse, and around them, people are turning to look. And freeze. And stare. Harry’s grin stretches his face until it’s painful, and he doesn’t care. Every eye in the place is trained on the large, hairy form stretching the glittering red fabric, and Harry thinks it’s fucking beautiful. Divine retribution.

With some reluctance, he tears his eyes from the sparkling, simmering Healer and seeks out Aquiline.

Expression carefully neutral, she shrugs lightly and then flicks her wand again, returning her colleague to normal. Harry turns back in time to see the puce-faced wanker pick himself up from the floor, glare at Ginny as though the whole thing is her fault, and stalk away down the drive with as much dignity as he can muster. Which, after a hundred or so people have seen him in a sparkly dress, is not a great deal. Harry is only relieved that he hasn’t started yelling and throwing around accusations, but he supposes that the humiliation is just too much. For now.

A low-level hum breaks out amongst the gathered visitors as he disappears out of sight, and even the ones who have no concept of Tremellen’s more wankerish qualities appear to be highly entertained. Harry supposes that unexpected, non-consensual crossdressing is amusing on many levels.

“That was outstanding,” Draco sighs, grey eyes alight. “What spell did you use?”

Surprised, Harry shakes his head. “Wasn’t me.”

“But... actually, I don’t care. I don’t. I could die happy having seen that.”

“Shame it wasn’t long enough for that Prophet bloke to get a picture,” Harry sighs. “Although, I think everyone saw it, so it doesn’t matter too much.” Already, he’s wondering what on earth he can do for Aquiline that’s as good as that.

Draco is still grinning when he turns to point out, “You know who I haven’t laid eyes on yet? Skeeter. I find it hard to believe that she’s not here somewhere, lying in wait for a big story.”

“It’s weird, isn’t it—” Harry pauses as something shiny scuttles past his shoe. Something small and shiny and remarkably familiar. It’s been so long since he’s had to deal with the woman in person that he had almost forgotten.

Oh, yes.

Quickly, he stoops and captures the something shiny in his cupped hands. Draco is regarding him with one eyebrow arched as though he knows Harry is quite mad. Harry merely smirks and examines the spectacle-like markings around the antennae of the glossy green beetle as it struggles for freedom and tickles his palms with scrabbling legs.

“You were right,” he says to Draco, inviting him to inspect the furious Animagus through the small gap between his hands. “Always trust your instincts,” he murmurs, “especially when it comes to the press.”

“Harry, have you completely lost the plot?”

“No, not quite. If you’ll excuse me, we’re just going to have a little chat,” he offers. “Aren’t we, Rita?”

Before Draco can respond, he is accosted by Shelagh Carmichael and a small knot of very important looking gentlemen, and Harry makes his escape. Heart racing with his own stupidity and the rush of just possibly being able to pull it all back, he quickens his pace over the grass and comes to a stop in the shelter offered by an overhanging section of the Manor’s West Wing.

The slender green antennae poke out of the gap in his hands and he addresses them, leaning back against the wall. Something about the success of the day, or his delight over Tremellen, renders him surprisingly calm.

“That wasn’t very nice, you know, sending that letter to Draco’s mother. Neither were any of the articles where you called Draco an evil Death Eater, or said that he was trying to trick me, or murder me, or steal my identity. Or the one where you said he was only with me to stop me producing an heir—that was almost inspired, Rita, really. But I’d love to know where exactly you get off scuttling around here like some horrible, disgusting...” Harry trails off, distracted by the furiously waving antennae.

Apparently he’s enraged her. Smiling down at the beetle, Harry registers a flash of familiar blue-green in the corner of his vision and his smile widens. All of a sudden, he feels rather Slytherin.

Carefully, he turns his hands so that she can see. “Do you see my friend, there? Well, I use ‘friend’ in the loosest sense of the word... he’s blue and green... looks like he might enjoy eating you?”

The scrabbling inside his cupped hands increases exponentially, much to his satisfaction.

“Alright, then. I’m going to put you down, now. And you and I are going to have a conversation.”

Hoping for the best, Harry takes a deep breath and sets the beetle on the ground. Seconds later, he’s staring straight into the eyes of an extremely pissed-off reporter.

“That’s no way to treat a respected member of the free press, you know,” she sulks, shaking blonde hair back into place.

Harry snorts, deciding that it’s best not to even start on her misuse of the word ‘respected’. “What do you want?”

The sudden smile is painfully familiar. “An exclusive.”

“Forget it.”

“You see, Harry, this is the problem—your attitude. I have to give the people what they want, and they want to read about you,” she says, all red lipstick and faux innocence. “If you won’t talk to me, and Malfoy won’t talk to me, well... those articles you’re so upset over are the next best thing.”

Harry stares at her, conscious that anything he says next will probably appear in tomorrow’s Prophet, and realising with mounting horror that this despicable woman is actually making a lot of sense. Which is all kinds of wrong, but there it is.

“It’s never going to stop, is it?” he sighs, mainly to himself, but Skeeter grins and adjusts her glasses, waiting.

“It can.”

“I want you to stop writing those articles about Draco,” he says, though he’s not sure why he’s bothering. He doesn’t trust Skeeter as far as he can throw her, although he could definitely throw the shiny green beetle a good deal further than its lascivious blonde counterpart.

“Then he speaks, too. And I want a photograph. A proper one.”

“Harry? What did you do with that—oh.” Draco emerges around the corner and his face closes down the moment he lays eyes on Skeeter. “You.”

“Me. Harry and I were just discussing terms,” she informs him.

Horrified, Harry touches Draco’s sleeve and appeals to him, “We were not discussing terms.”

Draco glances between them for long seconds, and eventually settles his steely gaze on Skeeter. His eyes narrow at her acid-green ensemble. “What will it take to make you fuck off, then?” he says wearily.

She repeats her demand, eyes glowing with delight.

Harry is uncertain suddenly, but then Draco’s eyes find his and hold, and he searches the grey depths at length. The warmth and trust he finds there is compelling, and he knows something has shifted, something about avoidance and risk-taking and putting things right. He swallows dryly, stomach flipping over. Draco nods.

“I don’t want to see a single article about either of us for the next week. I don’t want to see your face or your antennae or anything else of yours for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, I’m going to take the liberty of walking you right down to the end of the drive myself.” Harry pauses for breath and Skeeter opens her mouth to interrupt but he silences her with a glare. “If you can manage that, then we will give you your stupid exclusive.”

In the ensuing silence, Harry can’t help but wonder who exactly is manipulating who here.

“What makes you think I’ll give you what you want?”

“Because,” Draco interrupts, “we have nothing to lose. Unlike you. Now, if you wouldn’t mind terribly fucking off, Skeeter, I have an open day to attend to.”

The reporter twists her mouth into an almost-pout, but she nods.

As he turns to walk away, Draco flashes a beautiful, secret smile directly at Harry and then disappears seamlessly into the chattering crowd on the front lawn. Harry grins at no one in particular for a moment or two before forcing himself to address the situation at hand. When he turns, Skeeter is clutching an appointments diary and gazing over at Evil Peacock with deep suspicion.

“Thursday good for you?” she asks, as he propels her toward the gates.

“We’ll talk next week. If you behave yourself.”

Harry highly doubts that will happen, but then again, after today, anything’s possible.

Chapter Text

By the time the last tour has been given, the last pumpkin-pasty-on-a-stick has been eaten and the last guest has vacated the grounds of the Manor, it’s late in the afternoon and the Foundations team are united in a desire to collapse into a relieved, exhausted heap on the front lawn. Which they do, for five minutes or so, all six of them sprawling out in a comfortable silence, enjoying the fading warmth of the day and watching the drifting smoke from the end of Fyzal’s cigarette.

However, the huge clean-up operation awaiting their attention ensures this is only a temporary respite—apparently, a hundred or so curious guests are capable of leaving a once-immaculate house and lawn looking very much like the aftermath of some terrible natural disaster.

Narcissa’s response to the prospect of manual labour is predictable—she summons Flimby onto the lawn with a careless click of her fingers, sighs, and retreats into her sun-room without another word.

Clive, meanwhile—after a moment or two of watching the house-elf and the reluctant team at work—hangs back, still holding on tight to Zeus’ collar. Apparently conflicted, he bites his lip and glances back and forth between the house and the group on the lawn.

“Clive... alright, mate?” Harry asks after a moment, pausing in his mid-air collection of what seems like a thousand cocktail sticks.

Clive blinks. One more glance back at the house, and then: “Can I help you?”

Surprised and heartened, Harry smiles. “Of course you can. You look very carefully at the grass and tell me where there are lots of little sticks, and then I’ll come and pick them up with this spell.”

Nodding seriously, Clive drops his eyes to the grass and drags Zeus after him in search of the pointy bits of wood which cannot be safely Summoned all in one go. Harry follows him, half-amused and half-exasperated, trying to remember whose bright idea the impaled food had been in the first place.

He can’t recall for sure, but the apologetic look on Fyz’s face as he spots the hovering cloud of little sticks is rather telling, Harry thinks. Across the grass, he watches Draco’s drawn-down eyebrows as he levitates a number of foreign objects, dripping, from his fishpond.

“Oh, there’s lots here, Harry!” Clive calls with obvious relish, and he sets to work.

**~*~**

He doesn’t want to think about what time they stop, but it’s after dark by the time everything is eventually straight and sparkling once more. The day has been an unmitigated success, that’s for sure, but Harry aches all over and by the time he flops into bed and wraps himself around a softly mumbling Draco, he feels as though he’s been holding his breath for hours.

Sleep comes quickly and is deep, soft and delicious. The pink tint to the light slanting into the bedroom tells him it’s still early when he stretches awake on Sunday morning, but he’s alone in bed. Without opening his eyes, he’s still wondering whether to go back to sleep or join Draco in the kitchen for tea when a soft rustling sound startles him.

“It’s alright, it’s only just after six,” Draco says, sounding surprisingly personable for the hour, leading Harry to wonder exactly how long he’s been awake already and how much caffeine has been consumed.

He opens his eyes. Draco is sitting cross-legged on top of the sheets at the foot of the bed, half-dressed in his modified morning uniform of black boxers and white shirt. He’s gazing down at the newspaper spread open in his lap, eyebrows knitted.

Despite the slight frown, the whole tableau is wonderfully peaceful, and Harry leans up on his elbows amongst the pillows to take it in. And then it occurs to him: if it’s just after six, and he’s only just waking up for the first time, then... Harry glances at the closed bedroom door, and without thinking performs his one-way wandless Transparency Charm—as the door melts away he sees that Clive’s door is indeed still firmly shut.

“He slept through the night,” he says, voice light with disbelief.

“He did. And I could’ve told you that, you great show-off.”

Harry turns back to meet teasing grey eyes as Draco looks up at last and pretends not to be amused.

“Must’ve worn him out with all that work yesterday,” Harry muses.

“I think it’s a good sign,” Draco ventures uncertainly.

“Definitely. He must feel more comfortable... or less afraid, or... I don’t know,” Harry sighs. “But I’m not complaining, whichever way.”

“Seconded.” Draco smiles, eyes warm. He indicates the paper in his lap with a careless hand. “So, I’m not quite halfway through this yet, but absolutely no Skeeter character assassinations as yet.”

Abruptly reminded of his deal with Rita and then of his... capitulation, he supposes, as regards the media and his private life, Harry’s pulse speeds momentarily. One look at Draco’s carefully-guarded hopeful expression as he turns pages over, though, assures him that he’s done the right thing. Perhaps not the instinctive thing or even the smart thing, but the right one all the same.

“Well, that’s something.”

“Hmm,” murmurs Draco, eyes scanning the pages at speed. “Is it bad that I almost want her to write something awful and then we don’t have to give her an interview?”

“Not in here, it’s not,” Harry replies, invoking the ‘say anything’ bedroom rule, and Draco glances up at him for a split-second, mouth quirking upward at one corner. “And you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, anyway. My insane sense of honour doesn’t extend toward the press, believe me.”

Draco smiles properly now, but he shakes his head. “Honestly, I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of backing down, even if... well, look at that. Intriguing.”

After a moment or two, during which Harry waits as patiently as he knows how, Draco hands over the paper. Harry shoves on his glasses and looks at the half-page article about the Foundations open day, astonishment rendering him silent.

Nothing about him, except to mention that he was present. Barely anything about Draco beyond the bare minimum, and nothing insulting, nothing linking the two of them. Just an account of the facts and a reference to the paper’s ongoing ‘Clean up the Streets’ campaign, before going on to detail the various dignitaries and persons of importance in attendance. Both photographs are of the Manor, inside and out, and the tone of the reporting is carefully, painfully neutral.

Harry has to do a double-take when he sees Skeeter’s byline. He thinks it’s fairly safe to assume that she has never written such an unbiased, factual report in her entire career. She must, he reflects with some trepidation, want the exclusive very, very much.

“Bloody hell. I didn’t expect her to actually do it,” he says at last.

“Me neither.”

Harry stares at the article until it ceases to make sense, and then returns the paper to Draco, who after a moment, folds it and casts it aside, only to lean down to the floor and straighten up with an armful of what looks like the Saturday papers, which are of course still unread.

Amused, Harry accepts the cascade of papers and glossy supplements that are spilled into his arms, but it’s when Draco crawls up the bed, settles on his side facing Harry and produces the chewed-up red pen that he’s flooded with silly, connected warmth and has no choice but to pull Draco into a kiss, spilling magazines all over the sheets.

“Saturday crosswords on a Sunday?” Draco muses, somewhat breathlessly, when they slip apart, fingers still touching atop the sheets. “Whatever next?”

Harry grins. “Next? Next Sunday will be everyone waking up to ‘Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy: at home’ or something equally disturbing.”

“Oh, no.” Draco groans and covers his eyes. “Or... ‘Ill-fated pair share the secrets of their tragic love’,” he suggests.

“Fucking hell. I should have fed her to the peacock after all.”

Emerging from behind his hands, Draco smirks slowly and props his head up on one elbow. “He’d have liked that. You could’ve solved two problems at once, there.”

“You’re a useful person to have around... the day after that advice could have been helpful,” Harry deadpans, holding the expression for about a second and a half before Draco’s mock-scowl forces a smile to stretch his face until it almost hurts.

And then, as he catches himself grinning, sprawled there as close to Draco as he can get with the sheets still tangled between them, he’s suddenly stricken. Surely it’s wrong for him to feel so... carefree. Surely. And as quickly as that, the hot guilt is back to scald his insides. Back to bubble up and erode his good humour, as he supposes it should. He closes his eyes against it for only the briefest of seconds—Draco doesn’t need to see it, after all—but Draco does see it, of course he does.

A strong hand wraps around his forearm. “No.”

Harry turns his head on the pillow and focuses on the narrowed grey eyes looking down into his. “No what?”

“Don’t. You know what I’m talking about. You can’t keep going there... I can see it; it’s like watching all of the happiness drain out of you.”

“Sorry,” is all Harry can think of to say. The roughness of Draco’s tone scrapes at him, and he just feels worse.

Draco shifts closer, until the edges of his open shirt brush Harry’s bare skin. He shakes his head. “I don’t want your apologies; I want you to get rid of whatever horrible thing is in your head. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually enjoy seeing you in pain.”

Heart twisting with love and remorse and frustration, Harry tugs him closer and sighs, holding on tight. “I know. Sounds like one of those ‘easier said than done’ kind of things, though,” he admits.

Draco obligingly drapes himself over Harry’s prone form, folding his arms on Harry’s chest and resting his chin on top. The pale eyes are large and contemplative as he seems to search Harry’s face, and, feeling curiously exposed, Harry holds his gaze and strokes his back under the shirt.

“Say it out loud,” Draco says eventually.

“Say what?”

“Say, ‘I don’t deserve to be happy any more’ or whatever it is that pops up in your head and makes you look as though you’re standing next to a Dementor.”

Harry’s stomach flips at the words, and he almost doesn’t catch the flicker in Draco’s eyes at his own words. Almost. Another little sore point from the past, he thinks, and tightens his grip on Draco in the hope of relaying the unspoken message that it doesn’t matter any more. Draco relaxes against him, but his expression remains expectant.

“You said I shouldn’t say those things out loud. You said it would make it worse.”

“I know. I’ve changed my mind, that approach didn’t seem to be working,” Draco admits.

Harry sighs. “I feel like I’m in therapy.”

Draco flicks an eyebrow. He doesn’t move his chin from atop his forearms but shifts closer in the bed, tangling his legs with Harry’s through the twisted mess of sheets. “This would be highly unprofessional behaviour for a therapist and client.”

Despite his playful tone, those eyes are uncompromising and Harry has nowhere to hide. But as he lies there, pinned and exasperated and vulnerable, he realises that though it’s still there, the acid burn of his guilt has ceased; he can’t help wondering if Draco simply intended to distract him all along.

Until: “Come on.” The small smile is warm and wry-edged. “I’m a professional.”

And even though Harry feels ridiculous and ashamed, he finds the words anyway, because he trusts Draco; he trusts that Draco actually wants to help him, even though he doesn’t deserve... Harry sighs.

“I fucked up. I fucked up so badly that someone died, and now I have this... responsibility,” he says, eyes flicking to his wrist automatically even though he can’t see it where it rests against Draco’s lower back. “I have this responsibility and it doesn’t feel right to enjoy myself until I’ve put things right.” As the words tumble out, Harry is surprised to feel his face flushing, and he turns his head away from Draco’s steady gaze, pressing his heated skin into the cool pillow. “So, there it is. Now what do we do? Tell me how stupid I am?”

Draco’s long exhale feathers across his burning cheek, but he doesn’t turn back. “No. I understand about wanting to put things right.”

The words strike Harry and slowly he lifts his eyes back to Draco’s, a different kind of guilt grasping him tightly—Draco has built a life on atonement, hasn’t he? Harry feels, suddenly, humbled. Insensitive. Selfish.

“I know you do. I’m s—”

“—if you apologise to me again, I’ll have to hurt you.”

Harry falls silent.

“Have you considered that your patient didn’t even think it was your fault?” Draco continues, and surprise widens Harry’s eyes. “Yes, I saw that list. It fell out of your pocket last night. Harry... she didn’t want you to feel like this.”

The softly-spoken words open up the ache in Harry’s chest and he swallows dryly, once, twice, three times. “She didn’t... but...”

“She didn’t,” Draco repeats. “And as you’re fond of pointing out, I’m not a Healer, but I can’t help but think it’s her opinion that counts in all this.”

Suddenly, Harry’s eyes hurt. He blinks rapidly. “What did you do with my list?” he rasps.

“Put it in the bedside drawer.” Draco unfolds one arm to gesture negligently. When he brings it back, his fingers thread into Harry’s hair, stretching out and flattening the unruly strands in a gesture that Harry hopes belongs to him alone.

“Thanks.”

“Alright. Now, consider this. Looking after Clive—finding a family for Clive—is not your punishment. It’s not even some twisted reparation. It’s just... something you have to do.”

“Something I have to do.”

“Yes. But your life goes on, because your misery doesn’t negate his. And because you do have a responsibility, that part was right, and you can’t make a judgement when all you can see is guilt. And because...” Draco pauses, eyes glowing pewter-bright with warmth, “...and this is purely selfish, I admit, but I rather like to see you smile.”

As he falls silent and stares at Harry, waiting, the corners of his mouth twitch and Harry is overwhelmed. Clenching his jaw to control the stinging wave of emotion crashing through him, he lifts a hand to trace Draco’s almost-smile. Fuck, I love you, whispers the voice inside his head. I love you so much.

Oddly, it isn’t fear that stops him from saying those words out loud, not any more. Something in Draco’s eyes, something in the very slight catch of his breath and the astonishing openness of his expression and the careful fingertips in his hair, something tells him that—in this moment—he doesn’t actually need to say them.

And once again, Draco Malfoy is making a lot of sense, and Harry thinks he should probably get used to it. “Why do you have all the words?” he asks after what seems like a very long silence.

“Because I’m brilliant.” Draco allows the smile to widen, just for a moment. “Because I’ve done a lot of what you’re doing right now. And because it’s not happening to me this time.”

“It’s happening to us,” Harry murmurs, thinking out loud.

Draco kisses him. He unfolds his other arm from Harry’s chest and leans forward, supporting himself amongst the pillows, fingers splayed across white cotton and mouth sliding against Harry’s in a slow, warm affirmation that feels like Sunday and chases the remnants of those dark feelings out, right out to Harry’s fingertips.

Harry slides both hands into his hair and kisses back as though he’s being saved. Perhaps he is.

“Shame you can’t do that every time,” Harry mumbles as they part, turning his head unthinkingly to press his kiss-grazed mouth against the marked skin of the forearm next to his head on the pillow.

The fingertips of that hand slide over his scalp, and Draco huffs softly. “Where do you think I’m going, exactly?”

Harry just has time to smile against the warm skin before it’s pulled away; he looks around to see Draco retrieving the red pen and the Saturday Mail, which is apparently ‘an abhorrent newspaper, but sadly the best crossword of the lot’, and curling on one side with it.

Exhaling slowly and thoughtfully, Harry watches him for a moment before reaching for the nearest shiny supplement and opening it to the back page. He won’t say it out loud, of course, but Draco’s right... and until the next time, he might as well enjoy feeling just a little bit normal while he can.

“What’s the name of that Muggle actress that looks like a horse?” Draco wants to know.

Harry snorts and glances up from the Horoscope page. “I have no idea.”

“You do. Look, there she is,” Draco insists, dangling the folded paper in his face so that he can see the slightly smudgy photograph in the centre of the crossword puzzle.

Amused, Harry turns back to his magazine. “Nicole Kidman. And that’s not very nice, Draco.”

That’s not very nice, Draco,” Draco mutters under his breath, too busy filling in the letters in red ink to see the sudden blinding smile that Harry tries to suppress; all at once he’s back in that steakhouse with Ron and Hermione, watching his best friends and wishing he had... well, this. “It’s not my fault that she has a very... equine face,” Draco interrupts his musings. “Read me,” he adds.

Harry props the magazine up on his chest and sighs, not really minding at all. “Gemini,” he mutters, scanning the page. “Right. Your powers of persuasion are legendary, and this week you will need them to repair what is broken.”

In the pensive pause that follows, Draco looks up. “Seriously?”

“Mm. But it also says you’re going to find love with a blue-eyed stranger, and that a pink teapot is significant, so I wouldn’t set too much store by it,” Harry informs him, reading further.

Draco laughs, pen moving rapidly over the puzzle now. “Read yours, then.”

Harry obliges, and barely hears the soft knock at the door before it swings cautiously open. He hears the creak of the hinges, though, and lowers the magazine to his chest to look at Clive, who’s standing in the doorway gazing at them both in silence. He’s blinking rapidly as though confused to be waking up during daylight hours but otherwise looks completely unperturbed.

“It’s morning,” he almost whispers.

“Certainly is, mate,” Harry says, sending him a small smile which he tentatively returns, as though unsure whether it’s allowed. Harry knows how he feels.

Stretching, he gets up and hunts on the floor for something half-clean to wear. Behind him, the rustle of sheets and papers tells him Draco is dragging himself out of bed, too.

“’Lo, Drake,” Clive says uncertainly. Still uncertain, even now. Both of them. Harry sighs softly.

“Good morning, Clive.” Draco pauses. “You know, Harry was just telling me how much he was looking forward to making a great big breakfast for us both,” he says.

Harry drags a creased blue t-shirt over his head and spins around to catch two sets of hopeful eyes in the doorway, one with just a touch of a smirk.

“Did I? Did I now?” he enquires of Draco, lifting an eyebrow.

Draco smiles innocently.

Looking after Clive is not your punishment. It’s not even some twisted reparation. It’s just... something you have to do.

“My mummy...” Clive begins and then falls silent, looking at the floor and chewing his lip.

Draco’s eyes are suddenly full of anxiety and Harry finds himself touching him briefly before appealing to Clive. “Go on.”

“My mummy did bacon and eggs on a Sunday,” he says all in a rush.

Harry fights the hot, horrible rush this time and looks at Draco, who is still hanging onto his red pen and folded newspaper, shirt unbuttoned and messy-haired. Somehow he still manages to look authoritative as his eyes challenge Harry and his silent guilt.

“Bacon and eggs it is, then,” Harry says at last, nudging Clive and Draco out of the bedroom and toward the staircase.

He can do this. He thinks.

**~*~**

“Oh, El. You should have seen it.” Cecile sighs dreamily into her cappuccino. “It was... it was magnificent.”

“And disturbing,” adds Terry.

“Magnificently disturbing,” Cecile amends.

Eloise pouts and prods discontentedly at her teabag. It’s just after eleven on Monday morning, and all anyone can talk about is Tremellen’s impromptu drag act. At least, anyone who had been at the Foundations open day, and Harry has been so far delighted to realise just how many of the staff of Gen One are among that number.

So far, no one has dared to make a direct comment about it to the man himself; Tremellen is an intimidating man on a good day, and has a reputation for harsh, swift retribution for those who cross him. Still, no amount of fearsome reputation has stopped the giggles and the whispers and the wonderful, delicious rumours, which have already begun circulating the hospital, each time exaggerated just a little more.

Is it true that Healer Tremellen performed a striptease at Malfoy Manor this weekend?” one nurse Harry didn’t even know had asked him earlier that morning.

Have you heard? Tremellen’s getting a sex change,” a Healer from Trauma had informed him.

Harry has done nothing to encourage the rumours, but nothing to discourage them either. He suspects that the man himself has heard something, because his expression—dark and threatening even at their first morning rounds back—has only deepened with time. Harry’s almost concerned that Tremellen might explode, or at least he would be, if he could bring himself to be concerned about the colossal wanker at all.

“I know Malfoy was behind that little stunt,” Tremellen had hissed right into Harry’s face at the end of rounds, moustache quivering.

The image of stretched sequinned fabric behind his eyes had kept Harry’s expression admirably seraphic. That, and the fact that there’s no way Tremellen can prove anything of the sort. “I doubt that, Sir. Draco was standing right next to me, and he never drew his wand.”

Incensed, the man had merely glowered at Harry and Disapparated on the spot.

The lovely thing is, Harry thinks now, folding his arms on the shiny canteen table and half-listening to his friends, yes, the lovely thing is that not only is Tremellen completely rattled, but there’s really not much he can do to treat Harry any worse than he already does.

Harry supposes he can—and no doubt will—try, but it’s hard to care.

“I can’t believe none of you even got a picture!” Eloise cries, anguished.

He’s really missed this.

“It was too fast, really,” Terry says, dark eyes apologetic as Harry refocuses on the conversation. At a loss, Terry offers Eloise one of his custard creams and she almost smiles.

“Daisy reckons we’re making it all up,” Cecile puts in, nose wrinkling in disdain. “Now that’s dedication.”

Surprisingly, Eloise perks up. “So I wasn’t the only person who wasn’t there?”

Harry snorts, amused. “No. Know what, El? If you’re that desperate to see Tremellen and his disturbing chest hair poured into red satin, you could come and look at it in our—in Draco’s Pensieve.”

Eloise beams. She sips her tea at last, placated, and Cecile shoots Harry a significant look across the table.

Our Pensieve,’ she mouths, murky green eyes sparkling.

Harry tries to kick her, but she whips her leg out of the way just in time.

When Eloise asks after Clive, Harry answers her as honestly as he can, dropping his voice and reflexively pulling his sleeve further down over his wrist—no need for the whole canteen to know about it. He’d wavered briefly over the decision to confide in his work friends about the Promise, but it hadn’t taken much to convince him that they’d find out anyway; Cecile in particular is frighteningly tenacious when she thinks someone’s hiding a secret.

As it turns out, the level of practical and emotional support he’s received during the last week has left him feeling somewhat ashamed of himself for ever doubting them.

Deathbed promise, eh? Wherever you go, there’s yet more archaic pureblood crap,” Cecile had sighed with such heavy disparagement that Harry had almost smiled. Eventually, though, even she had had to admit defeat and put her habitual piss-taking on hold to ask: “OK. I give in—are you alright?” and Harry had been touched by her obvious awkwardness when forced to express concern in a straightforward manner.

“What’s the plan, then, now the open day’s over with?” Terry asks, leaning in and lowering his voice, too. He folds his biscuit wrapper into a little shiny triangle and fixes Harry with his serious dark gaze.

Harry forces down a mouthful of what tastes like no more than brown water after a month of Kelly’s expertly-brewed filter coffee; Reversals has spoiled him forever, he suspects.

“The plan?” Terry is very big on plans, Harry has found. “The plan is to do what I was asked to do. I’m going to have a look around some of these places the Ministry recommends, speak to the lady who runs the adoption service, and attempt to make a list of what Hermione is calling ‘other options’,” Harry explains, weary at even the thought of it.

When? his subconscious demands, and he silences it, because that is not at all helpful.

“When?” Cecile asks, and Harry sighs.

“I don’t fucking know.” He scrubs at his face and then drops both hands heavily to the table. “I’ll find time. I have to, don’t I?”

“You will,” Eloise says, and almost manages to keep the uncertainty out of her voice.

For long seconds, all four occupants of the table are quiet, and then a ripple of squashed laughter and whispering ripples across the canteen toward them. Harry doesn’t need to turn to see Tremellen entering the room, but he does anyway, and watches him stalk across to the counter in a blur of lime green robes and dark purple face.

Oh, yes. Gossip travels fast in a hospital, doesn’t it? Harry thinks with vindictive pleasure.

“Sequins, really?” asks Eloise. Again.

“Really.”

She sighs. “I wonder who did it.”

Harry smiles into his cup. He’s not dropping Healer Aquiline in it for anything.

“Don’t know,” Terry muses. “But whoever they are, they deserve a bloody medal.”

Across the room, Tremellen practically spills his coffee in his haste to get away from the snickering serving witch behind the counter.

“Order of Merlin, if it were up to me,” Cecile adds, smirking.

Harry makes a noncommittal sound. He’s hoping to do even better than that.

**~*~**

Tuesday the 4th of March brings with it the first two residents for Foundations, and a level of agitation Harry has never before seen in Draco. Compared to this, his mood on the morning of the open day had been positively mellow.

“This,” Draco mutters to his reflection as he brushes his teeth, “this is the real test, after all. Oh, fuck, it’s like judgement day.” He pauses, harassed grey eyes meeting Harry’s in the glass as he spits into the sink. “The day of reckoning.”

Harry, who has been leaning against the tiled wall behind him, steps closer and drops an indulgent kiss to his shoulder. “Draco, not that I want to discourage your sense of the dramatic, but it’s just two women, not the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s going to be fine.”

“Well, that’s very encouraging,” Draco says crossly. “And anyway, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t have any sense of the dramatic.”

He drops his toothbrush into the glass with a sharp rattle and turns to face Harry, arms crossed and eyebrow arched. Something about his posture just reinforces Harry’s point and he smiles, wanting to kiss the prickly expression off his face.

“Of course you don’t.”

“Hm,” says Draco, and Harry gives in to that compulsion, pressing him back against the sink, cupping his face in both hands and licking gently into that cold, mint-flavoured mouth until Draco relaxes against him. “You make a persuasive argument,” he concedes as Harry releases him.

Though Harry knows, or at least hopes, that deep down Draco is ready and confident and knows exactly what he’s doing, there’s still a warm thrill of gratification to be had in being the only person who’s allowed to reassure him. And perhaps, the only person who knows that the direct route is rarely the most effective one when it comes to comforting this man.

Harry holds the eye contact. “You concentrate on what’s-her-name...”

“Gretchen,” Draco supplies drily, wiping a smear of what is hopefully toothpaste from Harry’s bottom lip with his thumb.

“Gretchen, and I’ll bring you the other one at lunchtime after Shelagh’s discharged her.”

“I’m not going to tell you her name,” Draco says, and the glint of challenge in his eyes is reassuring to see. “And we are going to be late.”

With that, Draco extricates himself and stalks from the bathroom with long, sure strides, all traces of agitation swept under the poised, serene front that Harry so admires. Harry watches him go in the reflection of the mirror and smiles to himself; he might still need that protection in the outside world but he doesn’t need it here, and that feels good.

“I know her name,” he lies to the empty room.

“Of course you do, dear,” says the mirror.

**~*~**

Her name is Lupe, of course it is. Harry knew it was something beginning with L.

As he dashes up the fifth floor on his lunch break and collects the small, dark-haired woman from Shelagh Carmichael, Harry can’t help but think he’s setting a dangerous precedent—he has quite enough to do without establishing himself as an escort for patients between what used to be Stage One and the Manor.

Still, she’s the first, and Draco is still faffing around with the security of the Floo connection, so Harry quickly introduces himself, takes the paperwork from Shelagh and one of the patient’s battered leather bags, and Apparates them both to the gates of the Manor.

Lupe, who has yet to say a word beyond ‘hello’, shakes heavy dark hair out of her face and takes her second bag back from Harry with the slow lift of an eyebrow. As the gates slide open and they crunch up the drive, Harry wonders if he’s offended her, and suddenly feels more awkward than he had previously thought possible.

To his alarm, Lupe moves at an amazing rate for a woman who has just completed a seven-day detox regime, and he finds himself having to pick up his pace to keep up with her. It’s a warm day for March, and he wishes he’d taken his heavy robes off now, having left them in place in an attempt to present a professional, ‘you can trust me, new patient!’ image. Having sneaked another sidelong glance at the silent, wary Lupe, Harry can only conclude epic fail on that score.

He hopes the team are having more success with Gretchen. At least she has met Draco and Ginny before, having been one of the last patients to complete the old Chem Dep programme. Draco had been delighted to accept her into Foundations after a couple of unfortunate lapses, his pet theory being that short-term treatment just doesn’t work for some people, and: ‘This, Harry, this is where we come in.

From what Harry can recall, Gretch is a bright, loquacious woman and is unlikely to be silently scaring the crap out of the rest of the team. He realises that he, as the professional, should be making the effort here, but he has no idea what to say to Lupe and they’re already halfway up the drive.

Anything. Quidditch. The price of Owl Treats. The meaning of life. They aren’t imbeciles,’ echoes the memory of Draco’s voice in his head, the utter disdain dripping from his tone reminding Harry just how far they’ve come. He looks away from Lupe and smiles grimly.

“So, ah... are you nervous?” he blurts, and immediately administers a mental slap.

“No,” Lupe says shortly and with a trace of a European accent that Harry can’t quite identify. “Of course not.”

She still doesn’t look at him, but the set of her dark eyes and the swift denial lead Harry to believe that she and Draco might actually understand each other rather well.

“Course not,” Harry echoes, plunging his hands into his pockets and lengthening his strides yet again to stay in step with her. “Good, well... good.”

She’s a Chromia patient, he knows that much from her discharge papers, and what he really wants to ask her is how she found her detox, but somehow he doesn’t imagine she’ll take too kindly to that line of questioning.

Alright. Focus. Harry drags in a deep breath and tries again. “So, do you—ah, fuck’s sake!” Harry jumps, wincing in pain and so startled that he’s completely unable to bite down on the loud cursing that just slips out.

Right on the back of the knee, the little bugger. And god, through trousers and robes, it still hurts like hell. Scowling, Harry spins around and watches Evil Peacock streaking away across the lawn, crooked crest bobbing merrily. It’s his own fault, really—he’d been so absorbed in wondering how to communicate with Lupe that he’d completely dropped his usual careful vigilance.

He sighs and turns to see just how far up the drive Lupe has managed to stomp without him, and is astonished to find her right behind him with an odd little smile on her face. He almost thinks she’s trying not to laugh, and despite his prickle of humiliation and the sore spot on the back of his knee, he’s relieved.

“He enjoyed that, I think,” says Lupe, dark eyes meeting Harry’s for a moment.

“I don’t doubt it,” Harry replies, and when he smiles at her, she almost smiles back.

With that, she turns and starts walking again, making rapid progress toward the house, and he hastens to follow her. Harry pretends that his leg doesn’t hurt, and Lupe doesn’t say another word.

Still, when he hands her over to an impressively calm-looking Draco and introduces her to Gretchen, she thanks him gravely and glances at his knee so quickly that he almost misses it.

Despite his slight limp all the way back down the drive, Harry can’t quite deny that he’s developing some warm, squishy feelings toward Evil Peacock. He has his uses.

**~*~**

To Harry’s utter not surprise, Draco’s doom-laden pronouncements are unfounded and by Wednesday, Gretchen and Lupe are quite happily rattling around in the vast East Wing. To everyone’s surprise, the two women are quickly content in one another’s company, despite being absolute polar opposites in every way Harry can think of.

“That’s just how it works sometimes,” Ginny says, and rather pointedly, too. Harry wonders if she’s referring to him and Draco, and if so, he thinks she’s way off base. Their differences, he’s starting to realise, barely reach below the surface; it’s their sharp, striking similarities that make them so...volatile. Passionate. Just... right.

On Thursday morning, the girls are joined by Gerard, a Muggle-born Northerner who chats animatedly about football to Harry all the way up the drive, and though he barely gets a word in edgeways, Harry’s rather relieved that there’s no need to allow Evil Peacock to bite him today as some sort of weird, masochistic icebreaker.

He’s so relaxed this time, in fact, that when he spots the crafty bugger tracking their progress along the drive from under a gently rustling bush, he points discreetly and invites Gerard to assist him in yelling something, anything, to send their winged undercover assailant packing.

In hindsight, perhaps he should have been more specific, because Gerard’s consequent ear-splitting bellow of, “Come on the Reds!” right next to his ear startles Harry almost as much as it does Evil Peacock, who scurries back under the bush as though something’s hit him.

Still, it works, and he’s not complaining.

The confident young man quickly finds a place for himself within the tiny community, and Harry takes quiet pleasure in watching from the sidelines as things start to come together. It doesn’t feel quite right yet, and he supposes that has a lot to do with there being twice as many staff as there are residents, but this, of course, is very much a temporary situation, and Draco has been heard to remark that the current residents should enjoy the space and the silence and the staff’s time while they can.

According to Ginny, however, Draco spends much of Thursday in his office engaged in a series of harassed fire-calls with Hermione. Though Harry is not surprised to hear this—Friday will be Draco and Hermione’s attempt to gain support for their reform proposal from the Vulnerable Wizards committee in order to bring it before the Wizengamot for a vote—he can’t help but feel slightly anxious.

After a terse exchange of words at the office door, Harry reluctantly (but probably wisely) decides to let Draco alone and Apparate home with Clive for the evening.

“Are you upset?” Clive asks in a small voice from his spot on the kitchen counter where Harry has set him down while he attempts to find something to cook for dinner.

“What makes you say that?” Harry mutters, struggling with a particularly disobedient cupboard.

“You look upset. Your forehead’s all scrunched up.” Clive chews his lip and swings his legs back and forth. “Where’s Drake?”

Staggering backwards, clutching a box of rice, Harry glares at the cupboard and then looks at Clive. One hand immediately goes to his forehead and he’s surprised to register just how deeply he’s been frowning. “Drake has lots of work to do, and he doesn’t need our help,” he says, slightly bitterly.

“Oh,” Clive says softly, and then: “Is that why you’re upset?”

Harry puts the rice down and leans on the counter beside Clive, sobered and a little ashamed. The child is not only disturbingly perceptive, but his genuine concern for Harry’s wellbeing is both touching and so reminiscent of his mother that Harry aches.

“I’m not upset, I promise. I just...” Harry hesitates, finding himself wondering what Narcissa would say in this situation; her unique brand of delicate honesty would be really helpful right now. “I’m just tired,” he says eventually, smiling at Clive and grabbing the rice. “We both have a lot to do, that’s all. Draco has a really important job.”

“I know,” Clive says. “Mrs Mafloy told me.”

Harry smiles as he fills a pan with water and flicks his wand to light a fire underneath it. It warms him to know that Narcissa is proud of her son, even if she probably won’t tell him directly. He wishes she would, but she’s probably not going to change at her time of life.

“And you make people better, don’t you?” Clive continues.

The simple, innocent question turns Harry’s stomach over, but he tries not to show it outwardly, choosing instead to gaze into the simmering water in front of him. Except your mum, he thinks. Swallows hard. “Yeah, I try to. That’s my job.”

Clive says nothing for a long time, and just watches Harry throw together a simple meal of fish and rice from his perch atop the counter. When the cupboard flaps gently above his head, he leans back and shushes it with such soothing politeness that Harry has to smile, even through the haze of unpleasant heavy feelings that only Draco can smooth away.

But Draco’s not here, is he? Harry reminds himself forcefully, picking up Clive and depositing him in a seat at the kitchen table. He’s probably pacing Ron and Hermione’s living room, driving the pair of them bonkers. Of course, it’s Hermione’s bloody project, she deserves it... Harry’s just toying with a chunk of tuna and the idea of inviting Ron over for the evening when Clive speaks again.

“Why did my mummy die?”

Harry lowers his fork to his plate very carefully and takes a long, deep breath against the feeling of pure panic clawing at his insides. He’d known, known that question or one very much like it would be inevitable, but more than two weeks on, he supposes he’d started to... hope that Clive didn’t need to know. Which is ridiculous, he knows, but no less the truth.

Clive has his elbows on the table and is poking at his rice with his fork as he stares at Harry, blue eyes wide as he awaits a response.

“Well...” Harry coughs, trying to remember what his normal voice sounds like, “...she was very ill.”

“Why?”

Why? Draco was right, Harry realises, that really is the biggest question of all. How much to say? Is a lie of omission still a lie when explaining to a four-year-old about his mother’s... murder, essentially? Will telling the truth frighten him out of his wits and give him nightmares, or will it help him just to know?

Harry chews his thumbnail until it hurts. He wishes Draco were here. Not that he can’t deal with this alone—he hopes—but they’re a team now, and he feels like an important bit of that team is missing when it’s most needed.

“Harry?”

Pulling himself together, he meets pleading blue eyes across the table and sighs. He wishes someone had told him the truth about his parents’ deaths—the Dursleys’ lies certainly never helped him, and perhaps it’s as simple as that.

“She was ill because someone put a curse on her to stop her body from working properly,” Harry says eventually. “A bad person.”

He’s relieved for a split second when Clive’s next question is not “Who?” but again, “Why?”—relieved until he realises that ‘Why do people do bad things to other people?’ is a much harder question to answer.

“I don’t know. I don’t know why people do bad things,” he says, feeling horribly inadequate.

Clive looks down at his plate and pushes a grain of rice from one side to the other with a small finger. He hasn’t cried in a couple of days now, but his voice catches when he speaks again. The catch and the words themselves evoke a sick feeling in Harry’s stomach and he barely restrains himself from pushing his half-full plate away.

“Why didn’t you make her better?”

Harry rubs his face and really wishes he’d chosen the route of nice, pleasant lies instead of this. For purely selfish reasons, of course, but still. “I tried,” he says at last, and it’s barely more than a whisper.

Clive looks up, dark eyelashes wet, and Harry winces inwardly. “You did lots of spells,” he says.

“Yeah.” Giving up on setting a good example, Harry pushes his plate away and rests his elbows on the table, too, and props his chin up in one hand. “I did.”

As he sits there, their breathing and the drip of the kitchen sink loud in his ears, all of those well-worn ‘it’s my fault’, ‘if only I’d...’, ‘she died because of me’ thoughts crowd his head, but right behind them are Draco’s words and Romilda’s list and the knowledge that voicing those thoughts would assuage his guilt, not reassure Clive. He keeps them in.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help her,” he says, and the next words—while true—are the hardest of all: “I tried my best.”

Clive’s pale cheeks are tear-streaked now, and when he scrambles to get down from his chair, Harry doesn’t stop him. Fully expecting him to run from the room, to want to get away from him, Harry is astonished when the little boy comes to him and silently demands to be picked up.

Harry scrapes his chair back and pulls the sniffling child into his lap. Somehow the fact that Clive is still looking to him for comfort makes him feel even worse than before.

He’s four, Harry reasons, perhaps he just doesn’t understand. Harry remembers very little about being four, apart from feeling afraid, and his cupboard under the stairs and talking to spiders, hoping they’d talk back. He wonders how much of this Clive will remember in detail. Harry sighs heavily and rests his chin on top of Clive’s head.

Slowly, the tears subside, and Harry almost thinks Clive has fallen asleep, but for the sudden words mumbled against his shoulder, which he has to ask Clive to repeat.

“Are you and Drake and Mrs Mafloy going to send me away?”

Harry thinks his heart stops, just for a moment. The question is plain enough, and though he doesn’t know where Clive got the idea, the fear that stains the words breaks him inside.

What is he supposed to say to that? The truth, which is, essentially, yes?

Yes, Clive, this was never supposed to be a permanent arrangement? You see, your mother extracted this Promise from me...

Harry bites his lip, extremely pleased that this time Clive isn’t looking at him. “No one’s sending you away, Clive. But... don’t you want to live with a proper family? Or somewhere there’s other children to play with?”

“Mrs Mafloy plays with me,” he whispers. “And Zoos. Don’t they want me?”

Harry closes his eyes and lets it hurt.

“Of course they do. It’s... complicated.”

“Grown-ups always say that,” Clive whispers. Sniffs.

Harry almost smiles. “Yeah, they do.”

**~*~**

Clive doesn’t ask again, and Harry even manages to persuade him to finish most of his dinner, once a Warming Charm has been applied and once Clive has watched Harry eat his, too. Even so, after Clive is settled in bed, Harry can’t get the little boy’s words out of his head, and it’s with a particularly vicious flick of his wand that he banishes the shiny brochures into a drawer in the living room where he doesn’t have to look at them. For now.

As for that list Hermione keeps referring to... well, he has one of those, if one can count a folded piece of parchment with ‘Molly Weasley?’ written on it as a list. She’s the ultimate mother-figure as far as Harry’s concerned, and knows everything there is to know about raising children, having raised seven of her own. She’s been typically helpful so far, despite having only met Clive at the Foundations open day, and has fussed and bustled and provided Harry with more practical childcare advice than he knows what to do with.

He can’t help but think, though, that she—and to a lesser extent, Arthur, who spends the majority of his time slogging his guts out at the Ministry—has done more than her fair share of child-rearing already. Not that he’s asked her. He can’t even begin to imagine how he’d go about it, which doesn’t exactly bode well.

‘Mrs Mafloy plays with me.’

Harry looks at his list and reaches for his pen. Hesitates. Folds his list up again, picks up ‘Dog Rose’ and trails up the stairs to his bedroom. He sprawls across the bed and spells the door transparent from the inside, then opens the book to the place where Draco last left off.

As Rex strode up the path toward the house no-one was supposed to enter, propriety could not have been further from his mind, Harry reads, half-smiles and closes his eyes, just for a moment.

“Reading without me?”

“Hm?” Harry opens his eyes and blinks in the darkened room as the mattress depresses next to him and Draco sits on the edge of the bed. He stretches, feeling the heaviness of sleep in his limbs and the ache in his neck from falling asleep in a strange position, half-sprawled across the book with one hard edge pressed into his face. “What time is it?”

Draco carefully extracts the book from underneath him and runs fingertips over the creased skin of his cheek.

“Almost eleven. Hermione, in her wisdom, wanted to rehearse.” Draco’s eyes are tired and anxious and Harry feels an immediate twinge of sympathy. “I think Weasley was about ready to kill us both and make it look like an accident.”

Unwittingly, Draco’s weary, irritable choice of words stirs up the memory of Clive’s tears and impossible questions, and Harry looks away.

“I don’t know what she’s stressing about, it’s her sodding committee,” he says, needing to say something before his throat closes up.

“Do you think I haven’t told her that?” Draco snaps, rubbing circles into his temples as though attempting to dissolve a headache.

Harry sighs and watches him stand. Watches him remove his clothes with short, economical movements and fold them carefully, tension tightening every line of his body and forcing the breath from his nose in sporadic, audible bursts. This, whatever this is, isn’t about Hermione and her irrational stage-fright; the woman exasperates, baffles, and frightens Draco on a regular basis, but she doesn’t wind him up like this—tight enough to snap.

“What are you really upset about?” Harry ventures, sitting up and unbuttoning his shirt.

Draco turns, stripped down to underwear, and stares at Harry. His eyes are hard for long seconds before he closes them and leans heavily against the bedroom wall.

“I don’t want to go to the Ministry tomorrow.”

Comprehension is sudden, uncomfortable, and Harry is dismayed that he hasn’t put it together before. He exhales slowly and nods in the darkness even though Draco can’t see him. “Ah.”

“I haven’t been there since the trials. I’m not exactly relishing the prospect.” Draco opens his eyes and comes to sit beside Harry on the bed, elbows resting on his bare knees.

“Does ’Mione know that?”

Draco laughs shortly. “I haven’t mentioned it. Nor am I likely to.” Looking down at his hands, he continues, before Harry can say a word, “What’s your excuse?”

“I’m fine.” Harry stands and struggles out of his trousers; he almost overbalances when his hand is grabbed and pulled closer to Draco’s narrowed eyes.

“Really?” Cool fingertips trace his ragged, bitten nailbeds and he hisses involuntarily at the touch to his sore skin.

He doesn’t know whether to be irritated at being called out, or calmed by the casual gesture of concern and understanding.

“Bedroom rule,” Draco adds, catching Harry’s other wrist and pulling gently until Harry is forced to crawl forward onto the bed, straddling his lap. He shifts back onto the bed and Harry shifts with him, mattress giving slightly under his knees and sheets cool against his bare skin.

Heaving a deep, cleansing sigh, he nudges Draco onto his back, wrists still caught, and leans down over him. He presses his nose into the warm, lemon-scented neck and shivers.

“I had to tell Clive what happened to his mum.” Harry pauses; the soft string is rubbed over his pulse point, but Draco doesn’t say a word. “And then he asked me if we were going to send him away. And I didn’t say no.”

Draco’s breath is warm and contemplative against Harry’s skin, and it lifts the fine hairs on the back of his neck in a gentle rhythm.

“I can’t help but wonder where people learn how to be parents,” he says eventually, releasing Harry’s wrists to tuck one arm behind his head and wrap the other around Harry’s waist as they lie there, touching everywhere but not looking at each other.

Harry laughs softly, painfully, into his neck. “I think some people just know.

“I think there’s a class,” Draco whispers. “A secret class. You were too busy saving the world and I was too busy... doing all those things that are the reason I’m terrified of setting foot inside the stupid fucking Ministry tomorrow morning. And so we didn’t get invited.”

Harry laughs again, or at least he tries to, but to his ears it sounds more like a whimper. The hand on his back flattens out, as though trying to increase the surface area contact with Harry’s skin as much as is physically possible. And god, he really fucking loves Draco. He doesn’t have an answer, and somehow, knowing that is far more comforting than some hollow platitude.

Harry pulls back just far enough to lean up on his elbows over Draco, heart tight and racing with too many things to name.

“I love your words,” he whispers, meeting softened grey eyes and lowering his head to kiss Draco.

After a short, surprised exhalation, Harry feels the smile against his mouth and the hand sliding from his back up into his hair as he is kissed back with unhurried dedication.

“Yes,” Draco murmurs into the kiss, all slow, breathless warmth, and Harry melts against him.

It’s all yes, of course it is.

“Do you... want to talk about... stuff?” he offers uncertainly, because in all likelihood, he probably should.

“Fuck, no. All I’ve done all night is talk,” Draco mutters against his lips. “Do you?”

“No.”

Harry sighs with almost-contentedness and in an effort to press still closer, repositions his knees on the bed, shifting his hips and sparking a definite thrill of arousal somewhere low down and temporarily forgotten. As though seeking to remind him of their current positions, mostly unclothed, and the fact that it has once again been days since they’ve had chance to, well, do anything, really, his cock twitches with interest and forces a soft gasp from him.

Neither this nor the increased contact escapes Draco, and he groans faintly and pulls Harry harder into the kiss. “Didn’t you decide that we shouldn’t... ah... while.... hm?”

Incoherent-with-desire is a fantastic look on him, Harry decides. “I did, but...”

...but I really need you. But you’re anxious and I’m sad and I don’t really care. But...

“He’s up.”

“What?”

With what looks like tremendous effort, Draco pushes him away and then flops back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling and gesturing toward the door with one hand.

“Up,” he repeats.

Harry looks, and sure enough, Clive is standing in the hallway just outside their door. One-way transparency is a wonderful thing.

He’s not really surprised that the little boy hasn’t managed to sleep through the night after their earlier conversation, but it’s a blow to their progress all the same. Harry sighs and sits up, gazing down at Draco.

“OK.” Harry rubs his face. “You get the cocoa and I’ll get the whisk.”

**~*~**

Halfway through the night, the long run of good weather breaks in spectacular style with a severe thunderstorm, and the rain bounces and hammers against the windows in unrelenting sheets. It’s still raining after breakfast as Harry stands in the kitchen and looks out of the window, inhaling his fragrant tea steam and curling his fingertips away from too-hot ceramic.

Clive is drawing at the kitchen table with quiet absorption. He’s a little subdued, but not visibly distressed, and right now that’s all Harry feels he can hope for. The photograph of his mother is sitting next to his wax crayons on the crumb-strewn tabletop, and Clive glances at it from time to time, seemingly reassured by the very sight of it.

The sky is a dark, ominous grey, and the longer Harry stands there, the more it seems to ferociously sling it down. Opening the window for the post owl earlier was enough to demonstrate that it’s bitterly, bitingly cold for March, too. Harry only hopes it’s not some kind of omen—Draco is nervous enough about today as it is, without meteorological portents of doom.

Just then, he stalks into the living room, muttering to himself. Harry glances back at Clive just once before leaving the kitchen and pulling the door almost closed behind him. He can’t stop the smile and rush of warm desire when he sees that Draco is wearing that coat.

Harry steps closer, abandoning his teacup to the nearest available flat surface. The grey eyes are clouded with tension but Draco looks and smells delicious and Harry can’t quite resist touching him.

“I can’t believe I’m going to the fucking Ministry,” Draco says, accepting the hand that steals inside his coat but twitching away from the one that attempts to ruffle his hair. “Voluntarily! I must have lost the bloody plot.”

Harry smiles and meets his eyes. “I don’t know, Draco. Maybe the plot’s finding you.”

Draco gives him a withering look which he fully expects, but doesn’t move away.

“You’ll both be fine. The bad news is, you’ll have Hermione trying to protect you from anyone who dares to look at you a bit funny.” He pauses, and Draco lifts an eyebrow, pained. “On the plus side, you look hot.”

Draco’s mouth twitches up at one side. He looks at the floor for a moment, and Harry doesn’t miss the light, surprised flush, even if his next words are, “Of course I do.”

Harry smirks, kisses him and prods him toward the fireplace. “Go. Lateness will not endear you to your... partner-in-crime. Co-conspirator. Et cetera.”

Draco turns, handful of sparkling powder aloft and grey eyes glowing. “Et cetera later, when we have the house to ourselves,” he promises, almost managing to conceal his nerves.

Harry nods, amused, and Draco disappears into the green flames. He’d almost forgotten that today’s Friday, and that Narcissa’s offer—no, insistence—of taking Clive to allow them a night off each week opens up all kinds of possibilities. If he can wait that long, that is.

Deciding he has time for one more cup of tea before dropping off Clive and heading to work, Harry heads into the kitchen. One look at Clive’s drawing suggests that he didn’t close the kitchen door quite as well as he imagined.

Next to the smiling woman with dark hair, the white not-dog, the tall, pale lady, and the man with glasses that he assumes is him, is a cross-faced, yellow-haired man in a long, black coat.

**~*~**

Harry is rushed off his feet for almost the entire morning, a flurry of new patients being admitted into Gen One ensuring that he, Terry, Cecile and the others barely have time to breathe, let alone do anything as luxurious as taking a coffee break.

Harry doesn’t mind too much, even when he has to pick up the slack from a negligent Lisa, who seems to have taken it upon herself to suck up to a still-wounded Tremellen instead of treating her actual patients. It’s better than worrying about Draco, and to a lesser extent Hermione, and he hangs onto his optimism, even as eleven a.m. finds him treating his fifth set of all-over Suppurating Boils.

As lunchtime approaches, the tide of patients seems to ebb, and Harry and Cecile retreat to the nurses’ station to catch up on paperwork.

“Explain to me again what exactly they’re doing,” Cecile says, frowning and crossing out violently.

“They’d both hex me into oblivion for simplifying it like this, but basically they want to change the law so that people being convicted of drug-related offences—Wizarding drugs as well as Muggle ones—are directed into rehab instead of prison.” Harry pauses, frowning at the large, looping writing in front of him. “Did you know that Lisa’s recommended her ninety-year-old patient for aggressive Potion therapy?”

“No, but I do know she’s in-fucking-competent.” Cecile looks up briefly and she and Harry share a weary glance. She shrugs. “Reverse it. She won’t even notice. Changing the law’s a pretty big deal then, eh?”

“Mm.” Harry scribbles a safer set of recommendations under Lisa’s and turns to the next chart in his stack. “Yeah. That’s why it has to go before the whole Wizengamot, if they get it through this stage. It’s called—” He looks at his hand, where he’s written it down, knowing someone would ask—“Amendment 2741a.”

“Snappy.”

“I know.”

“You know,” she says after a moment, at last looking up from her frantic scribbling, “I might be forced to reconsider my position on Malfoy.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow. “What, that he’s a ‘good looking bugger’?”

Cecile grins and Harry steps back, startled at the cold feeling raking unpleasantly over his skin—it’s been a good while since he was last wet-fished. Shivering, he folds his arms and her smile widens.

“No. I stand firm on that one. I mean all of the other stuff... the more I hear, the more I have to concede that, well... perhaps he has some other admirable qualities, after all.”

Cecile’s delicate nose wrinkles as though the tentative compliment has caused her discomfort, and Harry grins, impressed. High praise indeed.

“He has lots of admirable qualities,” Harry agrees, suddenly full of a pride that feels wonderful if misplaced—it’s not as though he can take responsibility for Draco’s hard work and strength, after all. Still.

“Owl for you, Healer Potter,” a nurse informs him as she rounds the nurses’ station and huffs in exasperation at the amount of space the two non-nurses are taking up with all their charts and bits of parchment.

“Thanks, Nurse...” Nurse what? Nurse Nose-Ring? Oh, fuck.

Hunter,” Cecile coughs against the back of her hand, and then continues her writing, completely disregarding the nurse’s disapproving eyes.

“Nurse Hunter,” Harry says, flashing her a smile and taking off down the corridor before she can say a word.

The rain is still pouring down as he ducks out of the main doors, takes the roll of parchment and retreats back into the warm, bustling foyer to read it. He’s fairly confident, but all the confidence in the world doesn’t stop him from holding his breath as he unrolls the letter.

Hermione’s writing is messier than usual, as though she had been in a hurry to send the note.

Harry,

Success! Wizgt. vote 29th May.

See you tonight, Litton Tree, 7pm.

--Hermione and Draco.

PS. You were right about the bad news. It was rather charming, actually.


The postscript is in Draco’s handwriting, and Harry’s smile of delight at the important news only widens when he remembers his own words from earlier in the morning—Hermione has protected Draco, as Harry had known she would.

Lightened, Harry spares one more glance for the heavy, portentous sky and tucks the parchment into the pocket of his robe.

Something tells him he won’t be waiting until seven o’clock to offer his congratulations to his half of the victorious team.

**~*~**

Thinking about the form that congratulation might take proves disastrous for Harry’s concentration, and he can only thank Merlin and anyone else that the morning is almost over, and that he has no more new patients.

Even Tremellen’s acidic, “I can’t imagine what you could possibly be so happy about, Healer Potter,” doesn’t put a dent in his good humour, and from somewhere deep down, he finds a calm, bland smile for his mentor.

“Sorry, Healer Tremellen,” he murmurs, delighting in the alarm on the older man’s face and hurrying past him toward the foyer.

“This is how much I love you,” Harry mutters to no one in particular as he eyes the nearest Floo point with deep suspicion. With a deep sigh, he holds his breath and walks into the flames, thinking of the time he’s saving and what he can do with it, instead of the horrible spinning sensation and mouthful of smoke.

The lounge is deserted when Harry walks inside, and he follows the sound of voices and the smell of lentil soup to the dining room. As he stands in the doorway and scans the room, his stomach issues a growling demand for attention, which he forces himself to ignore for the time being.

Everyone’s here, and though the usually light-flooded room is dulled by the grey sky, the laughter and chatter and little arguments of its occupants fill it with life. So involved are they, that not one of them has yet noticed his presence, so he continues to observe, feeling oddly contented.

Ginny is talking to Gretchen and flipping through a sheaf of clipped parchments; at her other side, Fyz pauses in buttering a bread roll—no offending sliced white now Draco’s in charge, Harry notes—and leans over to shake his head and point at the page with his butter knife. Ginny looks up sharply, bats his knife away but appears to concede his point.

At one end of the large table, Lupe is calmly watching everyone else as she eats her soup. Beside her, Annette is chattering away and folding a green napkin into a rather impressive dragon.

“No!” comes the anguished cry from the other end of the table, and Harry turns to see Gerard just about avoid hitting his head on the table.

“I’d give up on him now, if I were you,” Draco advises, eyes bright with amusement. Harry finds his lips tugged into a helpless smile along with him; the tight, suffocating tension is gone and Draco looks every inch relaxed, playful and in charge.

“But... it’s not hard, seriously,” Gerard protests, tucking messy sandy-coloured hair behind his ears and gazing at Marley with obvious exasperation.

Seated between them, Marley dips his bread roll into his soup with a dramatic sigh. “Why do I need to know the overside rule, anyway?”

“Offside,” Gerard groans. “Off. Side.”

Amused, Harry watches him pick up a salt shaker and set it down in front of Marley with the weariness of a man who has done this many, many times before.

“Who’s that?” asks Marley, licking his fingers.

“The player with the ball.”

“Which ball, though?”

“There’s only one ball!” Gerard cries, and it’s apparently too much for Marley.

“Make him stop, Draco,” he appeals, dropping his head to Draco’s shoulder in a theatrical gesture that sends glossy dark hair spilling across his face and over Draco’s pale sweater.

The hot tangle of jealousy Harry had managed to force down now rises effortlessly into his chest, mixing with his contentment and anticipation until he’s unsettled and confused.

Don’t!’ he wants to cry from the doorway, but something stops him. Wrapping his fingers tightly around the glossy painted doorframe, he waits.

Relief floods him when, two seconds later, Draco rolls his eyes and pushes Marley away.

“I’ll do nothing of the sort. I think Gerard made a rather valid point in group yesterday, and if you don’t listen to him, how can you expect him to listen to you?” Draco hides a small smile behind his soup spoon and glances at Gerard. “I’d start again at the beginning, if I were you.”

Harry grins, thrilled to see the same balance of good-humoured informality outside of therapy groups that he remembers from Chem Dep. He supposes he shouldn’t have doubted for a second that Draco would achieve it here, too; the man seems to inspire an at-times baffling mixture of seriousness and playfulness in anyone who spends enough time with him.

It’s Annette that notices him, eventually. “Oh, hello, Harry,” she calls, and then everyone looks up.

Finding eight pairs of eyes fixed upon him, Harry smiles and offers a small, sheepish wave. He’s immediately drawn into one particular pleased little smile and grey eyes that warm at the sight of him, and something in the pit of his stomach thrills as he remembers exactly what he came for.

He’d be astonished if any of the residents were unaware of the nature of his and Draco’s relationship—the pre-open day Rita Skeeter will have seen to that—but had they been, he suspects that the look they are sharing right now would be more than enough to give it away. And he doesn’t care.

“Got a minute?”

Draco sets his soup spoon down and rises, attempting a stern glare in Ginny’s direction but failing miserably. “Certainly.”

As they walk away from the dining room, the previous chatter starts up again.

“You do realise that now they all think we’re going to my office to have sex,” Draco says.

Harry laughs. “Aren’t we?”

Draco says nothing, but walks a little bit faster. They reach the office in record time, and the last thing Harry sees before the door is slammed closed and he’s pushed hard against the unforgiving grain is the thrice-underlined demand to WAIT.

“You did it,” he offers, allowing his wrists to be pinned to the wood at either side of his head.

Draco stops a whisper away from his mouth, lips curving into a wry smile. “Apparently. It’s changed a lot, you know. The Ministry. I expected... no one tried to hex me.”

“Er... good,” Harry manages, a little saddened that he had apparently imagined someone would.

“She was brilliant.”

“Mm.” Harry tilts his head to close the tiny distance and press their lips together in a soft, slow kiss that he feels all the way down his spine. “She’s always brilliant, that’s what she does. What about you? Were you brilliant?”

Draco snorts and presses Harry’s forearms harder against the door, fingers slipping under string and holding tight. “No comment. Ask me another.”

Harry grins, euphoria lifting and intensifying the urgent desire spiking in his veins. Go with it, insists his unusually helpful subconscious, and Harry’s not arguing with that.

“Feel like celebrating?”

Draco kisses him again, this time pressing warm and hard and full length against Harry’s body, the familiar weight and pressure sending his fingers curling and cutting ragged nails into trapped palms.

“Silly question,” Draco murmurs as the kiss turns messy and heated.

“Silly question yes?”

The soft huff of frustrated amusement emptied into Harry’s mouth draws a short gasp of laughter from him but he doesn’t pull back from the demanding kiss that tastes like spices and lentils and something else that makes him ache with dizzy want.

“Yes, silly question yes, idiot,” Draco mumbles, and the words are the go-ahead Harry needs—he wrenches his wrists away from the door and pulls Draco across the office toward the desk.

Suddenly, as he looks into enquiring, lust-darkened grey eyes, he knows exactly what he wants. He lifts a hand to clear a space on the desk with a quick wandless spell, but overdoes it a bit in his eagerness, sending papers and parchments and quills skittering to the floor.

Hoping somehow that Draco might not notice, Harry pushes him onto the desk, attaches his lips to a sensitive spot of warm skin just behind his ear and sucks gently, insistently.

“You will pick those up if it’s the last thing you do,” Draco says, even as his head tips back in almost-submission.

“Later... I had a thought.”

“Surely not.”

Again, there’s a dry smile in his voice; Harry’s mouth twitches and his heart leaps. “Shh. I was thinking that this desk—” He leans on his hands on the mahogany surface, one either side of Draco’s hips, and speaks soft, low, harsh-toned against his ear—“this desk has seen far too much ‘almost’, and it’s just not right. Someone needs to be thoroughly shagged on this desk, and since it’s your day—”

“—and my desk,” interrupts Draco, efficiently unfastening Harry’s trousers.

“—and your desk, I think you should decide who.”

Draco leans back, his weight on one hand behind him on the desk, and meets Harry’s eyes as he deftly pulls trousers and boxers down around Harry’s thighs and wraps cool, firm fingers around his painfully hard cock.

Harry shudders, both at the long, slow strokes and the expression of longing and poorly-concealed amusement in the grey eyes.

“How very magnanimous of you,” Draco offers, tongue flicking out to trace his bottom lip. He bites gently on the threatening smile, but Harry has no such control, somehow managing to laugh and groan at the same time as skilled fingers twist and slide over his cock, stealing his breath.

“I thought so.”

“In light of my success, I think you should do all the work,” Draco continues, hair obscuring his eyes as he looks hungrily at Harry’s cock sliding in and out of his fist, his dry smirk just visible as he shifts his hips on the desk and draws Harry’s eyes to the delicious tightening of black trouser fabric. Harry’s mouth fills with saliva and he leans into the touch, pulling at Draco’s belt and buttons.

“Fine. That’s not...” Harry hisses and pushes into Draco’s hand, pleasure raking through him, “...going to be a problem. Lift up.”

Draco’s silent compliance as Harry pushes his clothing out of the way is completely undermined by his expression as he finally looks up and into Harry’s eyes; despite his dilated pupils, ragged breathing and light flush, he’s obviously very amused indeed. As he continues to teasingly stroke Harry’s cock, he suppresses his smile, digging perfect teeth into his bottom lip, kicks off one shoe and slides one leg free of his trousers. Draws his foot up onto the desk, still leaning back on his free hand, and levels a playful, challenging stare at Harry.

Harry stares back, tearing his eyes away only to rake them over the tensed, black-lined sinews in Draco’s supporting arm, pale fingers spread over shiny dark wood, the dark overcoat thrown over the back of Draco’s desk chair, his flushed skin and barely-contained amusement and beautiful, quivering hardness leaking steadily against his expensive sweater.

He presses one palm firmly against that firm flesh until Draco gasps and gives up his composure, letting the smile blossom and closing his eyes. Harry can’t quite decide what’s responsible for this delicious bursting warmth that has nothing to do with arousal; it could be trying—again—to have sex in this or any office, or the fact that the rest of the team know what they’re doing, or that actually, he’s ridiculously proud of this odd man with his trousers around one leg and one black-socked foot up on the desk, looking simultaneously so beautiful and so ridiculous all at once.

Draco lifts an eyebrow and watches avidly as Harry slides his fingers into his mouth and holds eye contact. The grey eyes flicker and his cock jumps under Harry’s fingers.

“Can you be serious?” he demands, mouth still flickering.

“Can you?” Harry mumbles around his fingers.

Draco snorts and bites his lip harder. Harry smothers his grin in a slow, deep kiss as he leans close to press wet fingers greedily inside that incredible heat, breath catching when Draco groans harshly into his mouth and pushes back against him, demanding without words what Harry wants so much to give to him. Still, he drags it out just a little longer than they both want because the thin, urgent sounds he teases from Draco with each slide and twist are beautiful and just a little bit out of control.

Finally, unable to wait any longer, he pulls back and with hands wrapped around pale, angular hips, drags Draco right to the edge of the desk. He’s breathing messily and shaking slightly as he lifts to meet the slow, firm push of Harry’s cock inside him, but the smile hasn’t left his eyes and Harry finds himself returning it, even as he presses all the way inside and the hot, tight relief makes him lose his breath.

He holds still for a moment, determined not to laugh or come, even though the temptation in both cases is strong after what feels like a very long time. Unblinking, Draco drops his leg from the desk and wraps it around Harry’s back, dragging him in closer, breath hitching at the deeper penetration and leaking helplessly against Harry’s palm as he waits, leaning back on both hands now.

Eyes flitting to the closed door, Harry chews his lip as he slides out slowly. “Do you think we should lock that door?”

“No. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll pay attention to the... sign,” he manages, tightening and pushing up indolently to meet Harry’s strokes.

“What if they don’t?”

Shaking the hair out of his eyes, Draco flashes a wicked, heart-stopping smile. “Well, they’ll only do it once, won’t they?”

Harry snorts and privately doubts that very much, but leans to capture Draco’s lips again, invading his hot mouth and stroking his tongue in rhythm with the quickening snap of hips as they move together on the edge of the desk with increasing desperation. Thighs bumping the hard wooden edge painfully, he ignores the discomfort and focuses instead on the agonizing, hot, tight slide of his cock inside Draco, the taste of his kisses and the tight grip of their fingers laced together on the desktop, steadying, holding on.

“Do you think they went in the office, or into the other side of the house?” comes the voice from the corridor, unmistakeably Marley’s.

Harry falters and pulls back from the kiss, breathless, opening his mouth to speak, but Draco is shaking his head and urging him to keep moving.

“Shh.”

“You shh,” Harry whispers, sliding slowly, and Draco lifts an eyebrow.

“I don’t know,” says a second voice. Annette’s. They’re fucked. Or not. “Just knock on. Draco’s in a good mood, isn’t he? And so he should be, he should be very proud of himself.”

The fingers wrapped around Harry’s tighten and Draco allows his eyes to close in silent exasperation. Something about this expression reignites the spark of inappropriate humour in the pit of Harry’s stomach, and as he continues to push insistently inside Draco’s tight heat, he can feel the soft laughter bubbling up and threatening to overflow.

When the knock on the door comes, after a moment or two’s mumbled conferring in the corridor, Draco groans softly and Harry loses it. Silently shaking, he buries his face in Draco’s neck and laughs helplessly.

“Should we knock again, or just go in?” Annette wonders, and Harry snorts inelegantly against the warm, citrus-scented skin.

“Don’t you dare stop,” Draco whispers after a moment, and there’s a waver to his voice that just tickles Harry even more.

“Won’t.”

Out in the corridor, there’s one more sharp knock followed immediately by a small scuffle, during which a third voice joins the conversation.

The words sound a lot like, “Come the fuck away from that door, you pair of tits,” but the hissed tone makes it impossible to discern the speaker.

Either way, the corridor falls silent. Eyes wet and shoulders shaking, Harry pulls back, meets intense grey eyes and swallows dryly, registering with a jolt the warm, needy, tension-bowed body beneath him and thrusting hard enough to make Draco cry out.

“Shh,” Draco insists somewhat illogically, seeing as he’s the one who made the sound, throwing them both slightly off balance to wrench one hand up off the desk to grip Harry’s arse and encourage him faster, deeper, harder.

Harry grins, licking salt from his top lip and kissing Draco, enclosing his cock in a slippery hand. So close now, heart pounding with all of it: messy pride, the almost-interruption and god, just because it feels so fucking good.

Annette’s words quirk his lips against Draco’s and he can’t help it.

“Are you very proud of yourself?” he murmurs, and Draco snorts. Moans softly. Snorts again.

“Shut up.”

Hand flying over the hard cock trapped between them, Harry shudders as inexorable heat floods his belly. Every word is a breathless effort, but he’s nothing if not determined. Leaning back to gaze into the heated grey eyes, Harry smirks. “I’m very proud of you. Fuck it, I’m going to say it again, while I can. I’m very proud of you, Draco Malfoy.”

“Stop it,” Draco growls, or tries to, because he’s laughing now, too.

“Not a chance,” Harry pants, but his next words are lost in a desperate, open-mouthed kiss as Draco tenses and gasps and comes hard, hot, sticky-slippery in his hand.

Kissing him again, slower and softer this time, Harry closes his eyes. Already on the edge, it only takes the breathless flick of a hot tongue against his and the silent encouragement of Draco’s hand urging him deeper into that clenching heat and he’s falling, groaning his release with a stupid smile on his face.

As his breathing returns to normal, Harry releases Draco and opens his eyes. He looks around the room as though realising for the first time exactly where he is, and exactly what they’ve just done. In Draco’s office. On his desk.

Draco leans back on the desk on his elbows and Harry, suddenly unsteady, leans over him with his weight on his hands. Draco meets his gaze with soft, amused eyes and the faint remains of a smirk.

“Look at this mess,” he says, indicating with a jerk of his head the scattered desk contents, dishevelled clothes and his white-streaked stomach and sweater.

Harry shrugs and trails sticky fingers over Draco’s marked forearm, chewing on his bottom lip and watching the shiny trail, fascinated. “Not bothered.”

Soft, dry laughter makes him look up. “Well, I know that.” Draco pauses and lifts an eyebrow, mouth curving into a smile that wraps a hot, tight band around Harry’s heart and makes him forget—just for a moment—that anything exists beyond that door with the sign that doesn’t really work properly. “Out of interest, what are you going to do if we pass at the Wizengamot?”

“Don’t worry,” Harry advises, not wanting to move. “I know plenty of ways to make a mess. You’re going to need a bigger sign.”

**~*~**

Harry slips back into Gen One with just seconds to go before afternoon rounds begin, and Cecile’s expression just deepens his lingering feeling of well-being. He knows full well that his warm satisfaction is written all over his face, his languid posture and his worse-than-usual hair, but it’s so very difficult to care.

Cecile drops to the back of the group to walk beside him as they trail behind Tremellen and hope to avoid his sadistic questions. Harry knows that he’s on top of everything with his patients, and he also knows that Tremellen will try to catch him out anyway, so there really isn’t any use worrying about it.

“No prizes for guessing what you’ve been doing, you lucky bastard,” Cecile whispers, keeping her eyes on Tremellen.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cecile.”

“That’s about—”

“—shh, Tremellen’s saying something really interesting,” Harry murmurs, smirking, and she kicks him.

The afternoon, once the torture of rounds is over, is relentless, and Harry is the last to make it to the Litton Tree. He’s almost, but not quite, late, and he has to scan the Diagon Alley restaurant twice before he spots Draco, Ron, and Hermione, who have for once pulled off an impressively co-ordinated effort with their Polyjuice disguises.

Knowing that Clive is safe and settled for the night with Narcissa allows him to enjoy his evening with a minimum of guilt. The Promise is not fooled by Polyjuice and wraps around his unusually-tanned wrist in an incongruous band, but Harry takes a deep breath, allows it a glance, and pulls his shirtsleeve down over his fingers.

He and Ron listen as Hermione and Draco retell the events of the morning in careful detail; their not-quite-right eyes are alight with enthusiasm and before long, half of the items on the table are pressed into service as illustrative props.

As Ron proposes the first of many celebratory toasts, Harry lifts his glass and echoes it, luxuriating in the warm press of Draco’s thigh against his, Ron’s genuine pride as he looks at Hermione, the warm aroma of bread and oregano, the pink tint to ’Mione’s face that’s part wine and part delight, and the knowledge that this, all of this, is his, and no one can take it from him.

“You’re thinking something disturbingly sentimental, aren’t you?” Draco says in an undertone.

“No,” Harry whispers back, knowing he’s bang to rights.

“I call bullshit,” Draco counters, but lets it drop, running a light fingertip over the back of Harry’s hand before folding his arms on the tabletop and turning to Hermione.

“Haven’t seen anything from Skeeter this week,” Ron says, and Harry looks up. “Think she’s actually going to keep her word?”

Harry shrugs. “So far, so good. We said a week.” He glances at Draco with a twinge of apprehension.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d make her wait,” Ron says.

“What?”

Ron leans back as the waitress arrives and places an impressive tiramisu in front of him; after gazing adoringly at it for a moment, he remembers Harry and looks up, grabbing a spoon and gesturing with it.

“Well—and this is just my opinion, mate—but a week’s not all that long. If it were me, I’d call her up and tell her to make it a month.” Ron digs into his dessert, and Harry pokes distractedly at his panna cotta. “You know, see if she really wants it or not,” Ron continues, swallowing and earning a sharp look from Hermione.

Contemplative, Harry nods and gazes at the superfluous raspberries on his dessert plate. He carefully gathers them on his spoon and deposits them on top of Draco’s chocolate-something-or-other without even looking at him.

“Raspberries,” observes Draco, and Harry is offered a forkful of rich cake for his trouble. He accepts it in silence, and Draco continues: “You know what, Weasley? That’s a marvellous idea.”

Ron grins, strange dark eyes gleaming. “Thank you.”

“I still say you should have given her to the peacock,” Hermione puts in petulantly, and Harry is reminded that Rita Skeeter is one of a tiny group of individuals to which his forgiving friend would actually apply the word hate.

“Thought you wanted me to talk to the press?” Harry points out, exasperated.

“I didn’t mean her,” she argues, leaning to steal from Ron’s plate, despite having insisted she didn’t want dessert. Ron scowls but allows the transgression.

“I think we’re sort of stuck with her now,” Harry says, attempting to convey a spoonful of his slippery dessert to his mouth without spilling it on the nice linen tablecloth; beside him, he can feel Draco watching him and trying not to laugh. “And you know, as good as a month’s reprieve sounds, she’ll never go for it. Not in a million years.”

“Strong words,” Draco says, and something in his tone makes Harry turn to look at him. Eyes that should be grey but aren’t flash dangerously, and Harry bites his tongue.

“Yeah, well. She won’t. She’s not exactly famed for her patience, is she?”

“Maybe not, but this is something... special. This is the Harry Potter Exclusive.” Draco rolls his eyes and across the table, Ron snorts. “I say she will. Want to make it interesting?”

Harry smiles, thinking of pub toilets and Chem Dep Galleons and all the times in between. “Do you remember what happened the last time you bet with me? In fact... any time you’ve ever bet with me?”

“Your overconfidence is my advantage,” Draco insists. He licks a fallen speck of chocolate from the back of his hand and thinks; Harry can actually see the moment he hits upon inspiration and those strange eyes glow. “If I’m right, you will give the residents a cooking lesson.”

Harry suspects he should have seen that one coming. Across the table, Hermione is apparently very amused indeed, and her soft snickers aren’t helping one bit. His mind, dulled by two glasses of wine and too much rich food, isn’t turning up much by way of a return wager. And then he catches Ron’s eye, and there it is—something he wants but has always refused to push for.

“Alright. If I’m right, then you come with me for Sunday lunch next week,” he says before he can change his mind.

There’s a small sound of approval from Hermione’s end of the table but Ron splutters noisily, having almost inhaled his mouthful of wine. He’s just surprised, Harry tells himself, keeping his eyes on Draco. The ‘oh, really?’ eyebrow is almost in his hairline, but a smile threatens the impassive line of his lips.

“Deal.”

Harry mirrors his expression as best he can and shakes Draco’s outstretched hand.

Cooking lessons, indeed. Not a chance.

**~*~**

It’s still pouring down with rain as the four of them prepare to leave the restaurant but it’s barely fifty yards down the Alley to the nearest bar, and so they opt to forgo Apparation, instead casting strong Umbrella Charms and braving the elements.

Hermione and Draco are still raking over the minutiae of their committee hearing in a way that reminds Harry strongly of Hermione’s insistence on doing the same after every exam during their Hogwarts years. He lets them walk out in front and casts his own charm over himself and Ron, who is surprisingly coherent for this point in this evening.

As he looks sideways at his friend, Harry is niggled at by a question he’s been trying to push away all night, and he decides he might as well ask it while Ron can still answer. He sighs.

“Any news from Larkin?”

Ron wrinkles his nose and looks away. Auror Larkin is the best, Ron has assured him of that, and he’s had the name of Romilda’s ex-partner for days now. Though Ron had warned him it may be slow progress, there’s something in the expression on his borrowed face right now that makes Harry feel uneasy.

“Ron?” he prods, nudging him gently in the shoulder as they walk.

Ron glances at him and sighs. “We should talk about this tomorrow. Or on Sunday.”

Harry’s stomach tightens at the implication. “No, let’s talk about it now.”

“Harry, come on. You’re supposed to be...” Ron shrugs and waves a negligent arm at the surrounding street, dark and wet and yet still bustling with Friday night revellers. “I don’t know. You’ve got enough on your plate, this isn’t... Friday night stuff.”

Harry scrubs through hair that is slightly damp, despite the charm. “Yeah, well, I can pretend it goes away, but it doesn’t really, does it? Just fucking tell me, you’re scaring me now.”

Ron glances at not-Draco and not-Hermione; they’re way ahead now, almost at the door of the bar they’re all heading for. He sighs and casts a Privacy Charm. “Larkin found him. Today. He’s in Azkaban.”

Harry hears ‘Larkin found him’ and ‘Azkaban’, mind whirring. “Azkaban? Oh, he will be. Fuck, that’s great news... so, is there going to be a trial, or—”

“No,” Ron interrupts. “He’s already in Azkaban. Now. Went there a little over two months ago.”

Shock roots Harry to the spot. Ron keeps walking for three or four paces, reaction times slowed by alcohol, and has to shake water from his hair when he retreats back beneath the shelter of the charm.

“Sorry... what?”

Ron sighs. “Philip David Harris, born 04/05/71, is already in Azkaban. That’s where Larkin found him. Harry, look...” Ron pauses and glances over at where Hermione is squinting and beckoning from the doorway of the bar, Draco beside her. He waves his hand in a way that she seems to understand, and she simply turns and drags Draco inside with her, leaving Harry and Ron standing in the middle of the street in the pouring rain. Harry watches the exchange blurrily and doesn’t know how to feel.

“Listen, since he’s already in there, it’s not going to be a problem verifying Romilda’s story under Veritaserum,” Ron continues, voice and eyes clear, calming, as though he’s shaken off Friday night Ron and put on his Auror head. “With any luck, he won’t be getting out for a very long time.”

“Why is he in there already?” Harry’s not sure he wants to know, but has to ask.

Ron exhales slowly. “Murder.”

Harry closes his eyes for a second or two, feeling sick. Two months ago... just after he first met Romilda and Clive. “What—how?”

“Rapid Ageing Spell.” Ron’s eyes are steady but apologetic. “Apparently, he barely knew the girl, and it killed her instantly. Larkin’s been fitting it all together, and... well, it seems that Velecia Robbins, this other girl, was the first victim. Around two weeks before he must have cursed Romilda. Larkin reckons... he reckons Robbins was the practice run. The one he got wrong.”

Head spinning, Harry just stares. The rain slants down without touching him, and he looks at it until his vision blurs. “You mean that Romilda was the one he got right?”

Ron’s face is grim. “I don’t know how else to put it. Either way, the first victim is the reason he’s in a cell. Apparently, certain members of the Auror Department aren’t in the business of asking more questions than they need to, or we’d have known about this weeks ago.”

“He knew she wanted to leave him,” Harry murmurs. Stares wildly at Ron. “So he... practice run? Fucking... fucking bastard,” he spits, kicking viciously and ineffectually at a nearby puddle.

Anxiety creases Ron’s unfamiliar features and he grips Harry’s shoulder. The simple touch spreads something through Harry that allows him to breathe, and he looks at his best friend’s worried expression, pulse hammering with fury and something like... disappointment.

“Mate, listen... it’s fucking awful, I know it is, but at least you know where he is now,” Ron offers, and Harry almost sags with relief—it’s definitely Ron talking now, not Auror Weasley, and he’s glad. “I didn’t mean to keep it from you, just thought there might be a better place to discuss it than... well, here.”

Harry gulps at the cold air and fights the strange little impulse to dispel the Umbrella Charm just so that he can feel the rain on his skin. “Yeah,” he says unsteadily, “you’re probably right. You know me... rarely listen to reason,” he adds, forcing a half-smile that hurts and wanting to touch Draco, just to ground himself.

“Nah, you’re... well, sometimes.” Ron frowns. Blinks uncertainly. “You going to be OK?”

“Yeah. Larkin’ll keep you informed, won’t he?”

Ron nods. “If he knows what’s good for him.”

Harry’s attempt at a smile is a little stronger this time. “Firewhisky—double,” he says, and starts walking.

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Mm. I know I should feel relieved, but I sort of feel... I don’t know. Come on.”

**~*~**

“...cheated,” he says finally, several hours later, as he lies in a tangle of sheets and naked limbs with Draco. He presses his nose into the damp hair at the back of Draco’s neck and wraps around him tighter. “I feel cheated. Is that really fucked up?”

“No,” says Draco, linking their fingers together over his chest. “No, it’s not.”

Harry believes him... almost enough for it to help.

**~*~**

With some effort, Harry forces all thoughts of Philip Harris into a tiny box in his mind, slams down the lid and locks it up tight in a dark corner. He has to wait on news from Larkin, and though he’s never been adept at waiting, he’s smart enough to know that he has no choice. Besides, he thinks he knows what he’s going to hear, and while it’s a huge comfort to know that Clive is safe, there’s a confusing part of him that wanted to see him hunted down and captured and brought to justice.

He wants Romilda’s death to be the one Harris feels, pays for with his freedom, and though it’s illogical, Harry can’t fight the feeling that this reduces her life to just another sentence piled upon the head of an already-damned man. Perhaps, the more logical part of Harry suggests, he’s just imagining the loss of a satisfying outcome that never existed in the first place.

As he lies there staring at the ceiling on Saturday morning, in the odd silence before Clive wakes up and before Draco returns from whatever it is he does in the kitchen on his own, he wonders why nothing ever turns out quite the way he expects. Why it is, that even years after the war, he still manages to attract complications and strange little dramas to him without any effort at all.

The introspection is getting him nowhere, though, so with a self-derisory snort, he hauls himself out of bed and slouches into the bathroom. He blinks at the mirror and frowns at the flash of pale yellow up in the top corner. He reaches up to retrieve it, and the little sticky-note unpeels from the glass.

#21 – I’m afraid that no one looks good in lime green. But you do look very good in just your pants, like right now. And even better in nothing at all, which can be arranged after you’ve come down and made me some tea.

Harry stares at the message, at Draco’s small, spiky handwriting, and inhales tremulously. It’s cold in the bathroom and he’s barely dressed—that’s why the tiny hairs on his forearms and the back of his neck are standing up, though it’s difficult to use temperature to explain away the rush of sadness and sharp, sweet gratitude that makes him close his eyes for a moment.

He meets his own misted green eyes in the mirror and is surprised to find himself smiling slowly. Turning away, he sticks and unsticks the tacky strip of the note to the palm of his hand, and heads for the stairs.

He wonders if Draco Malfoy is a complication or a strange little drama. In all likelihood, he’s both.

**~*~**

Whatever he is, he definitely has his uses when it comes to obtaining obscure items for people who really, truly deserve them. Having thought long and hard about a suitable thank you gesture for his former mentor and her superb sense of humour, Harry has almost given up all hope, and consulting with his friends on the subject has been no help whatsoever.

“Get her one of those shrunken heads,” Cecile suggests, and, when asked why the department head would want one of those, replies with a worrying amount of relish: “Because she likes weird things. And everyone likes a shrunken head.”

“How about a book?” Terry offers, and while not a bad idea, Harry suspects that Healer Aquiline has read every book in existence already.

“Don’t look at me,” Eloise demurs. “I think she’s scary. I haven’t a clue.”

It’s only when late one night, whilst running over his notes from the day, he reaches for the little box and remembers that of fucking course, there was something that Lorne Aquiline had admired very much.

Draco, once made aware of the person responsible for bringing his throwaway remark to life, can’t move fast enough to help, because, “Anyone who hexes Tremellen is a friend of mine.”

That Monday, with the coveted item finally in his possession, Harry makes his way to the second floor. He knows Aquiline well enough to know that she’s likely to refuse the gift if given directly, so he enlists an enthusiastic Kelly to help him sneak into her office.

Harry breathes in the musty smell he’s missed and looks around at the strange objects littering Aquiline’s many shelves, reflecting that perhaps she would have enjoyed a nice shrunken head after all. Still. This is better.

Carefully, he sets the brand-new Retrievo-Box on Aquiline’s overloaded desk. This one is smaller and less intricately-carved than his own, made from an elegant silver birch wood that feels satiny under Harry’s fingers. He fishes out a small piece of parchment from his pocket and slides it under the corner of the box.

Healer Aquiline,

On behalf of (almost) everyone in attendance at Foundations Open Day, 01/03/04 – thank you.

Don’t let anyone else touch the light before you do. Enjoy.


As he slips out of the office, Kelly flashes him a smile and a thumbs-up. Harry grins at her and Apparates back to Gen One before Tremellen notices he’s missing.

**~*~**

When he receives a demanding owl from Rita Skeeter later that afternoon, Harry knows that he can no longer put off having a conversation with her—one way or another, he has to act. With Clive in his bedroom and Draco watching with interest from the sofa, Harry fire-calls the irksome reporter and hopes for the best.

The thing is, he’s not quite sure which outcome that actually is.

Rita, predictably, is fuming at what she considers to be Harry’s reneging on their deal. But, even though he can feel Draco’s eyes burning into the back of his head throughout the argument, Harry keeps his cool and feels almost weary as he grips the cool stone of his fireplace hard and points out for the fifth or sixth time:

“No one’s forcing you, Rita. But if you really want the exclusive, you can wait. We aren’t going anywhere. Take it or leave it.”

“She’ll take it,” Draco murmurs, just loud enough for Harry to hear. “Fucking vulture.”

Harry suppresses a snort, staring into the sharp, calculating face that Draco can’t see. She won’t.

**~*~**

In hindsight, Harry thinks on Saturday afternoon as he slices into an onion with seven pairs of fascinated eyes fixed upon him, he should have known that Skeeter would never give up so easily.

If there’s one thing Slytherins are good at, it’s waiting,” Draco had gleefully informed him. “But most of us are multi-talented individuals, of course.

Everyone’s a fucking Slytherin.

Harry looks around the brightly-lit kitchen at his audience. Gretchen and Lupe are sitting on tall stools next to his work surface; Gerard and the two new male residents lean against the far counter-top with studied nonchalance that doesn’t fool Harry, and Draco is standing next to the door beside a fascinated Clive, fixing Harry with immensely entertained grey eyes.

The little boy is doing well, though he never seems entirely carefree, and Harry feels his sporadic flashes of anxiety like something is being wrenched inside. He hasn’t asked again about being sent away, but Harry is all too aware that he never really answered the question. Harry shakes himself and chops the last section of the onion with feeling. The round blue eyes are full of intrigue today, not sadness, and Clive is completely unfazed by the patients, who absolutely love him.

Beside Harry, Gretchen sniffs and blinks rapidly at the onion fumes.

“Erm, OK, does anyone know a spell that stops the onion from hurting your eyes?” Harry ventures, wishing he was a natural at teaching cooking—he managed fine with Defence, but this is apparently a quite different kettle of fish.

Silence.

“Is this Muggle cooking or cooking with magic, then?” Gerard asks eventually, looking confused. “Not that I know anything about either.”

Harry sets his knife down. “Well, it’s a bit of both, really. Some things are best done with magic, and some things are best done without... you just have to figure out which things are which.”

The residents nod solemnly, as though Harry is imparting some great wisdom.

“Is this a cooking lesson, or a metaphor for life?” Draco speaks up from the door, and all the staring eyes swivel to look at him.

He leans against the wall, arms folded, but there’s a smile in his eyes when he gazes at Harry, and it’s a long second or two before Harry can look away.

“Both, maybe,” offers Gretchen, still rubbing her eyes.

Harry says nothing but pushes up his sleeves and demonstrates the onion-fume-neutralising spell that he learned from Molly Weasley several years ago. Gretch, the nearest person to the offending vegetable, blinks and grins, impressed.

As he shows off his not-inconsiderable knife skills with an array of vegetables and then shows the assembled group how to make them into a simple soup, Harry is both pleased by their rapt attention and increasingly involved enquiries, and astonished that Draco has managed to gather so many people—himself included—who are utterly clueless about basic cooking.

“Now you do it,” Harry instructs, supplying fresh ingredients and watching with interest the expressions of alarm on the residents’ faces. Then come the questions.

“How do you know when it’s ready?”

“What’s the difference between boiling and simmering?”

“Is this a parsnip or a turnip?”

“Can I use magic to peel the potato?”

“Mine’s gone black—what shall I do?”

Harry stands beside Draco, who is enjoying himself immensely, and allows Clive to take his hand when he reaches for it. The afternoon sun is warm on his face and glints attractively off knives and shiny pans and bubbling liquids as the residents’ first not-bad-at-all efforts steam up the kitchen.

“So, are you going to—”

“Oh, crap... I think I’ve done something weird with the carrot,” Gretchen interrupts loudly. “Harry, please come and look!”

Intrigued, Harry bites down his smile at her look of panic. “Coming.”

“Look at that,” Draco says. “They love you.”

“Of course they do, I’m teaching them to make soup,” Harry murmurs, brushing his shoulder against Draco’s. “And then, when they know what they’re doing, they can teach the others...” He turns his hand over in a circle, “...and so it goes on.”

“Self-help,” Draco surmises. “I like it. You know how you lost our bet?”

Yes, but it’s good of you to keep reminding me about it.”

Draco’s lips twist in a wry half-smile, and his fingertips skate over Harry’s against the wall. “I think you would have done it anyway.”

Harry looks at the tiled floor and says nothing, because he suspects that’s true. “Probably,” he admits very quietly indeed.

“Seriously, Harry, it’s moving,” Gretch advises, and Harry peels himself off the wall to hurry to her aid.

**~*~**

#22 – You have persuasive powers that I suspect you are unaware of. I’d say ‘use them wisely’ but really, we both know that you won’t. Hopefully.

Harry unpeels another yellow note from the bathroom mirror on Sunday morning and grins unreservedly around his toothbrush. Well, there’s no one here to see him, apart from the mirror, and he’s long given up caring what it has to say.

He thinks that Draco might have a point, because for reasons unknown, he has decided, of his own volition, to accompany Harry to lunch at the Burrow. Having debated with himself and a not-very-helpful Draco, Harry has squashed his impulse to take Clive along with them. He’s now so accustomed to the calm, impassive attentions of Narcissa Malfoy that Harry thinks an afternoon of Molly Weasley and her energetic brood might just be too much for the little boy.

As it turns out, Clive is in a bright mood and is delighted at the prospect of a bonus afternoon with his two favourite playmates. Harry Apparates over to the Manor with him just before lunch and finds Narcissa in her sun-room. Zeus jumps up, resting front paws on Harry’s knees and he smiles—it’s been a while since he’s been greeted with such enthusiasm by the fickle not-dog.

“Hello, Mr Potter.”

“Hello. Apparently, our house is boring,” Harry informs Narcissa as he sets Clive down and loses Zeus’ affections immediately.

“Your house?” Narcissa lifts an eyebrow.

“Yes.” Harry frowns, puzzled, and then remembers what he wants to ask. “Who is Swanson? He keeps drawing pictures of someone called Swanson.”

Narcissa smiles, amused. “That will be Swanson Malfoy. He’s Draco’s great uncle. Or more specifically, he’s a portrait on the third floor. He and Clive have been discussing... death, if I’m to be frank.”

Alarmed, Harry stares at the unconcerned woman. “Why is my... Clive discussing death with some bloke in a portrait?!” he hisses, forgetting all of his manners.

Narcissa sighs, flicks pale blue eyes to the tangle of boy and not-dog now next to the window.

“Do try not to have a conniption, Mr Potter. Swanson passed away at the age of eight, shortly after he sat for the portrait. Clive seems to find him something of a comfort.”

“Oh.” Harry pauses, uncertain, and scrubs at his hair, a nervous gesture he usually fights hard to suppress in Mrs Malfoy’s company. “Sorry,” he adds impulsively.

For a long moment, she searches his eyes and he feels as though he’s being turned inside out.

“The protective instinct is nothing to apologise for,” she says at last and turns away in a swirl of pale hair and robes before he has a chance to respond. “Enjoy your lunch, Mr Potter.”

“Right,” he almost whispers.

**~*~**

Lunch is a surprisingly laid-back affair, with only Mr and Mrs Weasley, Ron and Hermione, Ginny and Neville present, though Harry strongly suspects that advance knowledge of Draco’s attendance would have filled some of the empty chairs around the large kitchen table.

Harry is torn between amusement and aching empathy as he sits beside Draco at lunch and watches his tight, serious expression, impeccable manners and ramrod-straight posture. It’s been quite some time since Harry has seen him so ill at ease and there’s nothing he can do to help, not really. This warm, well-worn home is a safe place for him, but apparently not for Draco. Not yet, at any rate.

Molly, bless her, seems to be attempting restraint, and doesn’t batter Draco with nearly as many questions as she looks like she wants to. She asks about Clive and about Foundations and stares at Draco very hard, expression flustered, as though she doesn’t know quite what to make of him.

Draco’s restraint is frightening, but Harry is close enough to hear his tiny, relieved exhalation when Molly turns her attention to Neville and begins grilling him on the number of hours he’s working and whether he’s eating enough vegetables. Across the table, Arthur shoots Draco a quick but genuine smile and the grey eyes widen, startled.

Aware that he’s staring, Harry looks at his plate and concentrates on Molly’s delicious roast chicken with thyme. Why Draco is even here is anyone’s guess; he won their bet and is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of Weasleys en masse, and yet. When Draco hooks an ankle around his under the table, he glances sideways and catches the flicker of a nervous smile that quickens his breathing.

For you, his subconscious prods. He’s doing it for you.

Draco doesn’t drop his guard until the six of them retreat into the garden, but it’s fascinating to see—as soon as the back door swings closed behind them, it’s as though he realises he’s among friends, and perhaps has been all along. It’s a matter of minutes before the biting humour and merciless Weasley-baiting are back in full-force, and Harry had never imagined he would be so pleased to see them.

The light and warmth of the day are fading as Harry and Draco make their excuses and head to pick up Clive from the Manor before returning home to Grimmauld Place. Draco retrieves ‘Dog Rose’ without a word and drops into an elegant sprawl on the sofa. He stretches with beautiful languor and gazes up at Harry in silent invitation.

Full, warm, relaxed, Harry gazes back and thinks curling up with Draco and further adventures of Rex Cardonia sounds very tempting indeed. And then the green flames jump in the grate, and some well-honed instinct tells him it’s not to be.

Harry quickly conducts his conversation with the harassed hospital employee and extracts the important information—there’s an issue with one of his patients, and he has no choice but to return to work. On a Sunday evening. Harry steps away from the flames and sighs.

“Hopefully it’ll just be an hour or so,” he says with optimism that he doesn’t really feel.

On the sofa, Draco’s eyes are bright with pure panic. “You can’t.

Harry frowns, confused. “I have to. I won’t be long, though... in theory.”

Draco glances over at Clive, who seems to be talking to a plant and not paying attention to them at all. “Harry, you can’t leave me with him. I... what will I do?”

Exasperated, and with his mind already racing through what might be awaiting him at St Mungo’s, Harry has no response. Just barely containing his eye-roll, he heads upstairs to find a clean set of work robes.

When he returns downstairs, crinkled robes slung over one arm, Draco is sitting very upright on the sofa, fingers wrapped around the cushions; he looks as though he’s ready for a battle, but Harry doesn’t have the time or the energy for one. Part of him thinks he should be more sympathetic to Draco’s obvious apprehension, but... he sighs.

“Harry...”

“You’ll be fine.” Relenting, he leans closer to Draco and murmurs against his ear, “He doesn’t not like you.”

**~*~**

He Apparates into the hallway just over an hour later, irritable and stinking of lavender. As he should have suspected, someone else could have easily dealt with the situation, and as he pulls off his robes and slings them over the balustrade, he’s still trying to dispel the suspicion that Tremellen has some evil scheme to fuck up his weekend at any cost.

The hallway is dark, and that’s probably why Clive fails to see him as he clatters into the kitchen, calling out in obvious distress, “Drake! Drake, I fell down and it hurts!”

Harry follows him to the kitchen door and is just about to reach out and comfort Clive when something stops him—it’s a split-second decision, but a quick once-over reveals that there’s nothing seriously wrong and besides, neither the little boy nor Draco have noticed his presence.

Turning from his tea-making at the kitchen counter, Draco looks terrified, but when Clive plasters himself to his denim-clad legs and sniffles, he seems to shake himself and swallow hard. “May I see it?”

Holding his breath, Harry steps back into the shadows and watches.

Clive unpeels his face from Draco’s thigh and holds his arm out to shows him a nasty graze down one arm. Draco rakes a hand through his hair and then drops it to rest on the counter, as though unsure what to do with himself, but Clive continues to stare up at him with wet eyes and a trembling lip, and after what seems to Harry like a very long time, Draco takes a deep breath and bends to pick Clive up.

Carefully, he sets the little boy on a kitchen chair and then, to Harry’s astonishment, lowers himself to sit cross-legged on the tiled floor at his feet. Without a word, he holds out his hand for Clive’s arm. Harry watches, hanging onto the doorframe, as Draco narrows his eyes and slides a slow, careful palm over the angry graze. Clive goes very, very still and watches him, entranced; the tears still brim in the blue eyes but do not fall.

Blond hair slides over Draco’s forehead as he gently pulls back from Healing the graze, but he doesn’t brush it away, choosing instead to stare hard at the clean, scratch-free skin of Clive’s arm.

“Wow, it’s gone.”

Draco smiles uncertainly and drops both hands into his lap. “Does it still hurt?”

Behind the door, Harry’s heart races and he bites his lip.

“Only a little bit,” Clive says. “Mummy sang when I got hurt.”

“Ah,” Draco says, bewildered. “I can’t sing, I’m afraid. But... when I get hurt, I like chocolate biscuits.”

When you get hurt, you like tequila and blowjobs, Harry thinks. And chocolate biscuits, he has to concede.

Clive blinks hopefully from his chair at the strange man sitting on the kitchen floor. “Really?”

“Of course. How about this?” Draco draws his wand and says, “Accio biscuits,” in the general direction of the kitchen cupboards.

Harry, behind the door, cringes in anticipation, wondering what exactly the cupboards will do. A second or two later, what they do is spit out approximately fifteen different kinds of biscuits. They rain down onto the floor around Clive and Draco in their shiny, brightly coloured packets and Clive laughs delightedly, tears forgotten.

Draco looks mildly surprised at the warm sound and then grins up at Clive, reaching out and picking up the nearest packet.

“You’ll rot your teeth,” Harry says, stepping into the kitchen at last.

Immediately, the smiling pair turn to look at him, faces amusingly guilt-ridden. Harry hesitates, unsure that he wants to be the grown-up in this situation. After a moment’s thought, he shrugs and drops to the floor beside Draco, sitting back on his heels and helping himself to a biscuit.

“Told you,” he whispers.

**~*~**

The joint efforts of Shelagh Carmichael, Hermione and Draco’s team mean that as March turns to April, Foundations has seventeen patients and is positively humming with life. Ginny makes a collage out of the old Chem Dep photographs, and steps up to continue the tradition on one of the walls of the new lounge. Groups and departments and activities work themselves into place, and new traditions spring up to cement and twist around the old ones.

Auror Larkin’s interview of the incarcerated Harris confirms all of their horrible suspicions and affords Harry several sleepless nights that, for once, have nothing to do with the war, or Draco, or Clive-shaped interruptions. It’s with great effort that he dismisses the weird desire to see the man for himself; it would do no good, he knows that, but still.

The knowledge that Harris will probably be spending the rest of his life in prison for what he did to Romilda and his other victim has another, unexpected side effect: Harry’s desire to fulfil his Promise to Romilda flares into life, consuming him in a frenzy of motivation. He can’t be sure it’s not the ancient magic of the Promise itself, but he also wonders if perhaps he’s been subconsciously holding back until now, holding back from letting go of Clive until he knows that he’ll be safe from the man who took his mother’s life.

Not that it matters either way, he supposes. He reads the brochures and meets with a rather stern lady from the Ministry who tells him more about the adoption process than he ever needed to know. He manages to inveigle a couple of days off out of the hospital and arranges to visit some of the recommended children’s homes. For a man of so many opinions, Draco is strangely reticent when Harry outlines his plans and thoughts, but Harry presses on, because he has to.

All the while, he isn’t unaware of the deepening relationship between Clive and Narcissa, but... well. She’s Narcissa Malfoy, and he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do with that. Having tried to speak to Clive about the whole thing on someone’s advice that ‘his feelings have to be taken into account’, all Harry feels he’s succeeded in doing is upsetting him. Maybe he did it wrong, it’s hard to know; he’s never been the world’s most sensitive communicator, as Hermione is so fond of telling him.

On the first of his personal days, Harry accompanies Draco and Clive to the Manor in the morning and is startled when Ginny appears from nowhere and invites Clive—and an inevitable Zeus—to help her with something mysterious.

Harry looks around the entrance hall, first at Draco, who shrugs, looking equally baffled, and then at a sharp-eyed Narcissa.

“Mr Potter.” She pauses, and Harry stares; he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her look uncertain before. “I should like to come with you.”

Blindsided, Harry coughs. Fiddles with his sleeve. “Come with me to see the home?”

“That is correct.”

“Er... right,” Harry says faintly, not knowing quite what to say to that.

“Mother,” Draco cuts in, not bothering to hide his surprise, “you haven’t been outside the grounds of this house in over two years.”

Harry, too busy being confused and bewildered by the request, had forgotten all about that. But Draco makes a good point.

“Yes, thank you, Draco,” she snaps, cut-glass tone sharp enough to draw blood. “I’m quite aware where I have and haven’t been.”

“I was just suggesting that perhaps...”

Harry stops listening and instead glances wearily between them, realising that once again he seems to be a dangerously close third party observer to one of those... Malfoy arguments.

“Yes, Mrs Malfoy, that’s fine,” he says before he can stop himself, gratified when they both fall silent and stare at him. “Would you like to meet me out the front in about ten minutes? Excellent. Draco, I’ll see you when I get back.”

He shoots a hurried smile at a puzzled Draco, doesn’t look at Mrs Malfoy at all, and walks out into the spring sunshine before either of them have time to draw him into their disagreement.

As he walks around the edge of the house, looking through the windows just for something to do, his eyes settle on Marley in one of the group rooms; the Irishman is leading a small group, writing furiously on a large flipchart and wearing his characteristic sparkling grin. Harry exhales heavily and rolls his eyes.

Behind him, there’s a soft snort. He turns. Lupe is sitting on the ground, back against the wall of the house, smoking a cigarette. There’s a silver bucket and trowel next to her, and Harry suspects she’s supposed to be working rather than smoking, but he’s not about to start telling her off.

“I don’t like him either,” she says. “He’s a big show-off.”

“Who?” Harry knows exactly who, but he’s still marvelling at the most consecutive words he’s ever heard out of Lupe.

“Mephisto,” says Lupe, dark eyes full of contempt.

“I don’t not like him,” Harry lies.

“You aren’t very good at pretending.”

Harry smiles ruefully at her. “So I’ve been told.”

Lupe drags hard on her cigarette and offers it to Harry. He shakes his head and she shrugs. “I think he shows off because he’s jealous,” she offers.

Harry raises an eyebrow. In the back of his head, a voice that sounds a lot like Draco is insisting that he should be telling Lupe not to gossip, but he can’t help it. “What has he—”

“—Mr Potter!” calls Narcissa delicately from around the corner.

“Excuse me.” Harry shrugs apologetically at Lupe, and with a resigned sigh, she puts out her cigarette and picks up her trowel.

**~*~**

The lady who meets them at the door of the whitewashed building looks stunned to see Harry Potter and Narcissa Malfoy arriving together, not least because Harry still has a careful hand wrapped around Narcissa’s silk-robed arm—she had rather formally offered her arm as they’d prepared to Disapparate from the Manor, and he’d been startled until it had occurred to him that she might prefer a Side-Along jump when faced with an unfamiliar destination.

Still, it was a surprising gesture of trust, and as the dark-haired manager of the home allows her eyebrows to descend out of her hairline, Harry prolongs the contact, allowing the touch to turn solicitous as he and Narcissa step inside the building. When he releases her, she nods just once, and he realises that actually, they haven’t touched each other before. Now they have, and Harry has neither melted nor exploded into smoking ashes.

Oddly, he’s reminded of the first time he touched Draco in Chem Dep, and his surprise at finding him warm. Narcissa slips him a sidelong glance as the loud-voiced woman—Julie Something-or-other, Harry can’t remember—leads them down an echoey corridor, and the icy blue eyes glint with just-under-the-surface solidarity. A warmth that’s there, if only one is prepared to look hard enough for it. Suddenly, he’s glad she’s here.

“Our older children are in classes right now, of course, Mr Potter,” Julie Loud Voice says, turning around to look at them. To look at him. Not Narcissa. “But perhaps, after the tour, you’d like to speak to some of the younger ones.”

“Yes, OK.”

Distracted, Harry looks around each room, walking beside Narcissa and her precise, sweeping strides, and wondering if Julie has anything to tell him that he didn’t already read in the brochure. The place is nice; he’s actually surprised by just how nice. All the rooms are clean and airy and comfortable and he admires the large garden dominated by an immense play area, which in turn is crawling with tiny, noisy children.

At Julie’s request, a handful of these are persuaded down from swinging tyres and monkey bars to stare wide-eyed at Harry and his beautiful, glacial companion. They seem happy enough, Harry thinks, but the big question is: can he imagine Clive here? And the truth is, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know if the sometimes-solemn, sometimes-excitable little boy would be happy with this polite, if rough-and-tumble, brood and their collection of fresh-faced carers.

Carers, at least, is the word Julie uses.

Handlers,” Narcissa corrects in a dry undertone, and Harry suppresses a smile.

“You come highly recommended,” Harry remarks as Julie leads them back inside and into a large, warm sitting room.

“Thank you, Mr Potter. I believe our unique edge is communication—it’s just essential, don’t you think?” Julie Loud Voice smiles brightly at Harry as she offers a flowered tea service.

Narcissa accepts a cup and gazes into it with thinly-veiled suspicion.

“Communication, I see,” Harry echoes, shifting in his chair. He wants to like her, he really does, and he’s fairly sure hers is a thankless job, but he’s not sure it excuses the way she’s almost refusing to acknowledge Narcissa’s presence.

“Tell me, Miss Forshaw,” Narcissa says at last, demonstrating a memory for names far superior to Harry’s, “because I am intrigued... how exactly do you use communication to enrich young lives?”

Her eyes pin Julie to her chair but when Harry glances at Narcissa, there’s nothing but perfect politeness on her face.

“Well,” begins Julie earnestly, and Harry looks out of the window at the playground.

Inhaling deeply, he wonders what Draco would make of all of this. It smells like cooking grease and paint and... he sniffs and looks at his cup. Camomile.

He only wishes he knew whether or not that was a good thing.

**~*~**

After quizzing Julie Loud Voice to within an inch of her life, Harry and Narcissa step out into the sunshine, blinking as they adjust to the sudden brightness.

“Thank you,” he says, turning to her and shading his eyes against the light. The words seem hollow somehow, and he can’t figure out why; his head is spinning with information and sense-memory and instinct fighting with reason.

She looks surprised, but as he holds out an arm, uncertain of the correct etiquette, her face clears. Directly across the street from the sprawling, white building they have just exited is a park, and now blue eyes scan the manicured grass and scattered benches with interest.

“With me, Mr Potter,” she murmurs, taking Harry’s offered arm.

Before he can do a thing, the familiar pull startles him and, seconds later, he’s standing in front of a painted bench containing an expectant-faced Malfoy matriarch. He hastens to sit, before she employs some spell or other to compel him to do so.

The sun is still bright despite the dappled shade offered by a nearby oak, and Harry finds himself studying the fine lines around Narcissa’s eyes and mouth as she sits in silence, not looking at him. Nervous, suddenly, he can’t help but wonder what she wants, but he knows better than to phrase the question so directly.

“I expected a lot worse,” she says finally, eyes fixed on the middle distance.

Surprise making him honest, Harry sighs. “So did I.”

Why did you come with me? he wants to ask. Why don’t you want to go home? Why are we sitting on a park bench in the middle of Wizarding London?

But he doesn’t.

Narcissa turns her face slightly into the sun and trails pale fingers over the warmed wooden slats of the bench. Harry wonders just what it feels like to be... in the world, after hiding behind the protection of her own property for two whole years. He can’t even imagine, and as Draco’s concerned eyes flash into his head, Harry hopes he’s not worrying about his mother too much.

While she’s sitting on a park bench with Harry Potter, for no good reason that he can see. At least, he thinks, if anyone from the Prophet is nearby, there’s a strong chance Rita Skeeter will hex them herself to prevent anything reaching print before she gets her hands on that exclusive.

“Have you read my book, Mr Potter?”

“We’re about halfway into it,” Harry says, too quickly to self-censor.

Face in profile, the one pale eyebrow he can see lifts a fraction. “Draco has read it already, I am certain.”

Harry doesn’t know why he bothers with dignity where this woman is concerned. “He has, yeah.” Flushing, Harry leans forward, elbows on his knees, and picks at his string fretfully. “He’s reading it to me. It’s... an information absorption thing.”

“Is that so?”

The question is rhetorical, of course, but that doesn’t stop Harry from muttering, “Yes,” and looking away.

“And your thoughts?”

Harry bites back one of a thousand possible barbed remarks and hesitates, closing his eyes against the sun, just for a moment, and scraping his shoes through the gravel at his feet.

“I don’t think it’s only about a man who doesn’t know when to give up. None of them know when to give up—he wants her, she says she doesn’t want him, nobody wants her family and everyone wants Rex Cardonia, even though he’s clearly off his trolley and not only that, just wants to be left alone.”

“An accurate, if pithy, summary,” Narcissa concedes after a moment.

“Are you trying to tell me that stubbornness can only end in disaster? Because I know I’ve some way to go before the end, but it seems to be going that way.”

A dry sound of amusement is the only response. Harry rakes tense fingers through his hair and glances back at her, but her expression is impassive.

“I admire your tenacity, Mr Potter,” she murmurs. Taken aback, Harry opens his mouth to respond but she meets his eyes at long last and he closes it again. She glances across the road to the whitewashed children’s home, and then back to him. Exhales slowly. “It is adequate, in the absence of other options,” she continues, and it takes Harry a moment to realise that she’s talking about the home they have just visited, and not him.

When their eyes meet again, something swoops and tightens in Harry’s chest. “Yes,” he manages.

“Other options are scarce in this world. I would like to offer you one.” She pauses and with a lightness of touch that makes Harry shiver, draws a fingertip over the Promise band on his wrist. “I would like to take Clive, Libere Ostendo.

Harry stares, even as she withdraws her hand, and flails inside his head for a word; any word will do. The directness of her offer yet again throws him all off balance, and the best he can do right now is focus on what is familiar—vaguely familiar, at least—those words.

Libere Ostendo—he remembers Draco reading those words from the book. The book Narcissa had given him. But...

“Isn’t Libere Ostendo a proposal? Like... of marriage?” he splutters, alarmed. “Draco said...”

Narcissa almost smiles. “Draco can be amusingly literal at times. Libere Ostendo is merely a proposition in the purest sense—a declaration of intention. Laying out one’s cards on the table, so to speak, without hope or agenda.”

“Right.”

Harry swallows against his dry throat and feels entirely justified in raking all his fingers through his messy hair yet again. He should have known, should have known that this was why she brought him here. Why she accompanied him. And yet, when he allows himself to look at her, she’s staring at the pale hands folded in her lap with mild surprise etched onto her features, and he has trouble believing that she started the day with a plan, either.

He can’t quite believe that Narcissa Malfoy, a woman who not six months ago called him nothing but a ‘bad match’ for her son, is sitting calmly beside him on a Thursday morning in April and offering to raise a child for him. Libere Ostendo.

Where’s that fucking box when he needs it? And where’s Draco when he needs other hands touching that worn string and other fingers pulling and flattening at his hair? Oh, fuck.

Aware that the silence is stretching out, Harry attempts to get a grip of himself. “Why?” he asks.

“Because I want to. Because a lost child needs a parent, and because your life—” Narcissa pauses, seems to rethink, “—because your lives are just starting, and perhaps there isn’t quite enough space. Are you searching for a reason, or for my ulterior motive?”

For an odd split-second, Harry imagines Hermione sitting in his place, and the way she’d leap all over the chance to find and expose Narcissa’s ulterior motive. And yet he doesn’t believe she is pretending altruism, even for a moment.

“Either. Both. I’m interested.”

She looks out at the park once more, and a light breeze lifts white-blonde hair from her forehead. “I am all too aware of the mistakes I made as Draco’s mother,” she offers stiffly.

Though moved by the honesty, something about the statement sends a warning prickle over Harry’s skin. “Are you looking for a second chance, then?”

“No,” she cuts in quickly, “you misunderstand. I do not offer in the hope of rectifying my errors in judgement. Clive is a child, not a potential demonstration of my skills as a mother. I merely mean to say... to hope... that I have learned, Mr Potter.”

Harry leans back and draws his elbows up to rest his forearms on the top slat of the bench, no longer caring about his sloppy posture. For a long time, they sit in relative silence, breathing in grass-scented air and waiting. Waiting for something, though Harry’s not entirely sure what.

“And now what do I do?” he asks faintly.

Narcissa stands carefully and gazes down at him, her tall, slender figure blocking out the sun from his face. “Whatever you must, Mr Potter. It is not a time-limited offer. Libere Ostendo,” she repeats.

“I... pera gratia,” Harry offers, having no other suitable words right now. He stands.

She smiles, a split-second flicker before the cool mask drops once more and she nods. And Disapparates.

**~*~**

Everyone appears to be in group when Harry enters the Manor, and Narcissa is nowhere to be seen. Head spinning, he drags himself into the deserted East Wing lounge and sits down at the long table, arms crossed on the shiny surface and chin resting on top.

After a minute or two, he pulls out his crumpled bit of parchment with ‘Molly Weasley’ written on it and locates a chewed-up pen in his trouser pocket.

Narcissa Malfoy, he writes. Libere Ostendo.

Chewing his lip, he stares at the words until the ink dries, then he folds the sheet back into his pocket, drops his chin back to the table top, and waits for Draco to finish his group.

Chapter Text

“Remind me why I ever thought this Psychodrama thing was a good idea?”

Draco slides into the chair next to Harry’s and rests his elbows heavily on the table, dropping his head into his hands with a deep sigh. Shaken out of his brooding by Draco’s appearance, Harry flicks his eyes briefly sideways but doesn’t lift his chin from his folded arms. Draco looks shattered.

Harry shuts his eyes against the light streaming in from the huge bank of windows.

“Because Stonewell Hall were doing it? Because you thought an action method might be effective with patients who struggle to talk about their feelings?” Harry mumbles, not quite caring that the question was probably rhetorical. “Residents who struggle to talk about their feelings,” he corrects himself before Draco does. “Because Marley has a certificate in it? Because... I’m out.”

Draco snorts and says nothing for a long time. Harry opens his eyes and drags himself upright.

“He was rather impressive, actually,” Draco offers at last, dropping his hands from his face and glancing at Harry with weary eyes. “Must give credit where it’s due.”

“That you must,” Harry mutters, stupidly irked to hear of Marley’s accomplishment but trying hard not to show it. He has no desire to revert back to hating the smug prat, but well... some days, it’s a bit of a battle. That being said, it’s easier to think disdainful thoughts about Marley than it is to consider the reality of Narcissa’s offer, and especially when Draco looks so tired. “Was it OK, though?” he presses eventually.

“Yes. Intense.”

The terse response is like a red flag to Harry, and without thinking, he covers Draco’s hand on the table top for a brief moment—it’s just a second or two, but the pale fingers twitch and reach for his, and he feels a little better. He’s aware, from Draco’s detailed explanations involving textbooks and office-supply props, that this kind of therapy can drag up all sorts of feelings and memories, and he’s also aware that this goes for every person in the group, including Draco and Marley and anyone else taking part.

He knows a certain amount about Draco’s past, and even some of his darker experiences, but he’s not naive enough to believe that there isn’t more that Draco doesn’t talk about, and probably never will. Harry leans on his folded arms and gazes at the tiny line between Draco’s eyebrows as he breathes slowly and stares out of the window.

The piece of parchment feels like it’s burning a hole in his pocket, but he’s now uncertain how to bring up Narcissa’s Libere Ostendo, or even whether he should at all. He doesn’t feel like having an argument about it, and there’s something vaguely dangerous lurking behind the exhaustion in the grey eyes that makes him hesitate.

Suddenly, Draco sniffs the air and grimaces. Harry can’t smell anything, but he doesn’t know why he’s surprised by that.

“They’re making lunch,” Draco says, still staring out of the window. “They’re making that soup you taught them, a-fucking-gain. For the sake of my sanity, show them how to make something else. Please.”

“I will, soon,” Harry placates, tracing the grain of the table with anxious fingers. Unsettled, he searches for innocuous words with some difficulty. “What would you like—shepherd’s pie? Lasagne? Filet mignon?”

Draco laughs shortly, and though there’s little warmth to it, Harry is relieved. For a moment, he listens to the mingled voices just audible from the resident kitchen as what sounds like half the community plus the rest of the staff team rush to pull lunch together after their group. Where the rest are, he doesn’t know, but the lounge is deserted and feels oddly still.

“Is she alright?” Draco says suddenly, breaking the silence.

“Your mother? Yeah, she’s fine,” Harry assures, surprised by the question. I think, he adds silently. It’s not as though he’s actually seen her since they returned, but Draco doesn’t need to know that.

“Tell me.”

Harry’s pulse quickens. “Tell you what?” He glances at Draco, who is looking at him now.

“She did something, and I want to know what.” Draco narrows his eyes. “Or you did something, I don’t know—either way, out with it.”

Harry sighs inwardly. Prickly, drained, bad-tempered or not, he’s clearly not going to get away with hiding anything from Draco. There are, he realises, certain disadvantages to having a partner who is so skilled at reading people.

Deciding to avoid the circuitous and longwinded account of the events leading up to the conversation on the bench, Harry opts for directness. “She offered to take Clive.”

Draco’s sharp intake of breath forces him to reconsider his bluntness, and he adds, “After we’d seen the home. She... well, she said a lot of stuff, actually, but the upshot is that she wants to look after him, Libere Ostendo.

Draco lifts a hand to push through his hair, frowns lightly and looks away from Harry and out of the window once again. “Latin is a strange look on you,” he says obliquely.

Bewildered, Harry stares at him. He doesn’t know what he expected Draco to do, but he expected... a reaction. Something. For the first time, he wonders if Draco has known this was coming all along.

“Did you know she was going to do that?”

“No, but I can rarely predict what she’s going to do,” Draco says, almost smiling. Almost.

“You and me both.” Harry rubs his eyes behind his glasses, feeling infected by Draco’s lassitude. “What do you think? What the hell should I do?”

Draco turns his head once more and fixes Harry with darkened, intense eyes and a strange, sober expression. “You should do whatever you think is right.”

“Great,” Harry whispers. “Thanks.”

Draco doesn’t seem to hear him. He’s probably still head-battered from the group, Harry reasons, leaning back in his chair and inhaling the all-too-familiar scent of vegetable soup that has now started pervading the living room in earnest.

It’s not as though he can’t make a few decisions alone, anyway, it just feels a bit odd to do so these days.

Whatever he thinks is right, though? Harry doesn’t even know where to start with that one. Still feeling uneasy, heavy, uncertain, Harry stretches his arms out in front of him across the smooth shiny wood and gazes at his creased shirt-sleeves; the scattered dark hairs of his forearms with the twin pale interruptions of string and ancient magic; his sore, untidy, stress-bitten fingers; sharp knuckles and imperfect hands.

He should be accustomed to the concept of holding life in these hands, and yet never before has it felt quite so literal. So momentous. So very possible that he might bugger it up completely.

Lost in his thoughts, Harry isn’t sure quite how long he sits there, but when the bell for lunch rings, he is immediately aware of two things. The fact that he’s actually ravenous, and the fact that Draco is touching him—sliding a hand over his nearest sleeve and wrapping around his wrist, elegant fingers next to his ragged ones.

When he looks up, Draco’s eyes are pained, though whether at his mother’s behaviour or at the prospect of more vegetable soup, it’s hard to tell. “Want to go out for lunch and talk about something else?”

Harry does. He really does.

“Somewhere that doesn’t serve soup?” he suggests, pushing back his chair and pulling Draco with him toward the door before he can change his mind.

Allowing himself to be pulled, Draco smiles—a real smile this time, and something inside Harry twists with relief at the sight of it. “No soup. No reporters. No wizards if possible, in fact,” Draco adds.

Harry returns the smile and keeps walking until they are both outside of the anti-Apparation wards.

“I think that can be arranged. I’ll even have you back in time for afternoon group.”

“Wonderful.”

Confused and relieved and a little restless, Harry steps close to Draco and gratefully inhales the reassuring scent of his shirt-collar. He’s warm and familiar where they touch, and Harry is almost able to stick a pin in the whole Narcissa Malfoy business, just for a little while. It’s clear that Draco is avoiding the issue, and Harry is letting him, but... perhaps things will be clearer after lunch.

“With me?” Draco says softly, and it takes Harry a moment to realise why it sounds so familiar. At least this time, it’s a question.

“Yes.”

Draco nods, and they Disapparate.

**~*~**

After lunch at a strange Muggle noodle restaurant, during which Draco insists they sit at a table in the window and draws Harry into a game which essentially involves making fun of anyone passing by on the street, Harry collects Clive from Narcissa and Apparates home. He has the whole day off, and the following day, too, and has no excuse to leave the little boy with her, but he still feels strange as they leave the sun-room, like he doesn’t quite know how to talk to her any more.

Which is nothing if not frustrating, because he’d only just started to figure it out in the first place. One step forward and two steps back.

Clive is in the mood to talk about his mother, it seems, and as he tells him that, “Mummy wasn’t very good at cooking—well, Philip said she wasn’t, I liked her breakfasts,” Harry is flooded by simultaneous waves of nausea and inspiration.

“Well, I think you know best,” he says—there’s no way he’s even getting into the conversation about Philip Harris that someone will have to have at some time or other—“But there are lots of people where Draco works who don’t know how to cook. Would you help me make a list of things we can teach them to make?”

“Is Drake bad at cooking, too?”

Harry retrieves a pen and a bit of parchment and sits down at the table with Clive. “Yeah, he is. But he’s good at lots of other things.”

Clive spreads his fingers out on the table, thoughtful. “He can read,” he offers brightly.

Amused, Harry chews on his pen. He suspects Clive is thinking of the previous night, when he had sat in rapt silence at the foot of the sofa while Draco had read several chapters of ‘Dog Rose’ and played with Harry’s hair. He also wonders if this statement means that Clive thinks Harry can’t read.

“He can, yeah. He’s a man of many talents.” He taps the parchment. “Irish stew?”

Clive makes a ‘yucky’ face and shakes his head.

Harry smirks. “Me neither.”

By the time Draco makes it home, Clive is fast asleep in bed, having helped Harry to create a list of ‘really important stuff’ for the residents of Foundations to cook, under Harry’s watchful eye.

Having no objections whatsoever to the suggested early night, Harry follows Draco upstairs and they disrobe and crawl into bed in a strange, not-entirely-restful silence. Draco sprawls flat on his back and stares at the ceiling, and from his position curled on one side, head pillowed on one arm, Harry can see the lines of tension that still pull his face tight. He wants to smooth them away but can’t seem to find the words to even ask.

Besides, choked by his own discomfort and racing thoughts, he’s not sure he’ll be able to reach. Fearful at the sudden distance between them that he doesn’t quite understand, in the almost-darkness, he presses his hand to Draco’s chest and the rapid heartbeat hammers against his palm.

Say Anything only works when the words are there, bubbling just under the surface and demanding to be let out, he reflects.

“I don’t know what to do,” he says at last, because it’s the truth.

Draco’s heartbeat quickens under his fingers and he turns his head away toward the one-way transparent door, but after a moment, his hand comes up to cover Harry’s over his heart.

“I know.”

Harry closes his eyes.

**~*~**

When he wakes, it’s not late but the house is unusually silent. Scrambling from the sheets, he finds a note on the bedside table, propped up against a cup of tea with a Warming Charm glowing around it.

I assume you still have an appointment today, so I’ve taken Clive with me to the Manor.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth.

D.


Surprised, Harry sits amid the rumpled sheets and stares at the note. He picks up the tea and gulps at it, not caring when the scalding hot liquid burns his throat. It’s nice of Draco to take Clive, of course it is, and Harry knows that just a couple of weeks ago, he would have been horrified at the idea of spending time alone with the child. But still, he can’t help feeling like he’s being avoided.

And avoidance, he thinks as he abandons cup and note to stretch distractedly, avoidance is one of Draco’s special talents, when he chooses to use it.

Given that he’s unable to think of anything he’s done wrong, he can only surmise that Draco’s unease is to do with his mother, and Harry doesn’t know if he can help him out with that; his thoughts on the subject are tangled enough as it is. On the one hand, Narcissa Malfoy’s offer is a wonderful thing, but on the other... he’s just not certain at all.

Harry groans and gets to his feet, slouching toward the bathroom. Draco has assumed correctly, and he does indeed have an appointment today, with the other children’s home on his list. He toys with the idea of calling to cancel, but it’s only the briefest flicker.

Options, tells himself firmly. Other options, that’s what Hermione had said. The trouble is, he can’t remember which are the options and which are the other options any more.

“I’m sure that doesn’t make any fucking sense,” he mutters to himself, gazing at his reflection with dissatisfaction.

“Language,” says the mirror.

Harry pulls a face, reaches for his toothbrush, and smiles at what he sees.

Unexpectedly lifted, he reaches for the little yellow note stuck to the bottom left corner of the mirror.

#25 – Your mastery over the toasting machine is unmatched. I’m certain I did everything right, but in the esteemed opinion of my breakfast companion: ‘Harry’s is better, sorry’. Will see you later, after I’ve had a little cry into my coffee.

A soft snort escapes Harry and he shakes his head. Feeling just a little more grounded, he sticks the note to his forearm while he brushes his teeth and contemplates this morning’s information-gathering visit.

Narcissa’s presence during yesterday’s appointment had been helpful and actually quite soothing, and the selfish part of him wants to fire-call over and ask her along to this one, too, but he imagines that would be pretty insensitive of him considering her offer.

“Yeah, Mrs Malfoy,” he says around his toothbrush to no one in particular, “I know you offered to raise my child, but how about just coming to have a look at another home with me, just in case? You know, got to keep my options open.”

Yeah. That’s not at all disrespectful. Harry sighs and spits.

In the end, he dresses, makes excellent toast, which he eats standing up at the counter, and Apparates to the North London home by himself.

This place isn’t nearly as fancy or well-appointed as the one run by Julie Loud Voice, but Harry is immediately at ease; the manager here is everything that she was not, and even though Harry’s still unable to put his finger on the exact qualities in question, he doesn’t suppose it really matters.

David Holbrook—‘Call me Dave’—has lines around his eyes, slightly crooked teeth and a strong Mancunian accent, and as they settle in his chaotic, paint-peeling office after the obligatory tour, Harry finds himself confiding in the man, sharing the information that he kept back from Julie.

“Well... can’t say I’ve ever seen one of them up close,” Dave admits after some time, examining Harry’s Promise band with interest.

“I’m not surprised. Though I am surprised that everyone I show this to knows exactly what it is... I didn’t have a clue,” Harry admits, dropping his hand b