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Bearded Lady

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***

Harry jerks back. The pack of flying spoons, forks, and knives shoots past his head, pummelling the wall and clattering on the floor.

“Be careful, Ron!” shouts Mrs Weasley from across the kitchen. Her face is red with bother, as well as from steam off the giant bird she is basting. “And is it really necessary to set the table with magic?”

“I’m seventeen now,” Ron says, gathering the cutlery and spreading it unceremoniously across the long table. “I’ve every right to—”

“Having the right to do something doesn’t make it polite. You could have hurt Harry. Now hurry up, they’ll be here soon.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“It’s all right,” Harry says absently. He can’t seem to stop glancing at the door to the Burrow’s kitchen. He’s been distracted all day, and it was pure luck that he’d taken notice of the deadly projectiles.

“Don’t see why we’ve got to make a fuss about supper,” Ron mutters as they set the plates and napkins on the table. “It’s just Snape. He’s always coming to our house for Order meetings. As if we even want him here to begin with....”

“I don’t want to hear another word about it.” Mrs Weasley is levitating a hot bowl of potatoes to the table (while Ron looks at Harry, wide-eyed, as if to ask indignantly why she gets to use magic in the kitchen). “And it’s not about Professor Snape. You know it’ll be Draco’s first night here. We should try and make him comfortable after all that he’s been through this past year. Poor dear, I can’t imagine—his mother murdered, almost before his eyes, and his father threatening to disown him if he refuses to join up with the very people who killed her.”

“That was a year ago,” Ron says. “I’m not happy it happened to him, but Malfoy’s still a right pain in the arse, Mum. Don’t let him fool you.”

Ron is right, of course. Malfoy is no ray of sunshine, or bouquet of flowers, or box of baby puffskeins, or anything that would bring joy to the average person. But there is a side of him Ron has never seen. Perhaps no one has seen it. No one but Harry in the solitude of the dungeons, where they spent most of their free time this past school year. Slytherin was absent of most students after the Great Walk Out, except Malfoy and a handful of people Harry doesn’t know, which made it easy for him to sneak in and spend time with Malfoy in his newly private dorm. There was so much kissing to do, so much love-making, so much lounging and laughing and wrestling, which Malfoy was merciful enough to let Harry win at sometimes; and there was so much whispering and nose-touching and back-rubbing (usually for Malfoy) and hand-holding and more kissing. It was a time of thoughtless joy. When Harry had to think, it came in the form of homework, with Malfoy scowling over his shoulder and correcting his mistakes before he even made them; in the form of worrying about You-Know-Who and what Harry and Malfoy would do about their respective conundrums with that particular fellow; and, most of all, what Harry would choose to do about his gender-identity on his 17th birthday, when Dumbledore’s sexual transition spell would fade.

It is July 25th, and Harry has less than a week to figure it out.

“I suppose it would be nice either way,” Harry confided once, with Malfoy’s head on his stomach, Malfoy’s eyes lazy with post-sex contentment. “You know...being completely man or completely woman.”

“I like you as you are.”

“I know. But I have to choose. And I have a feeling I know which you’d prefer.”

“How dare you presume what I think,” he murmured, sliding up to kiss between Harry’s small breasts.

“I think you like women. At least, you like women’s bodies. I never saw you look at Blaise Zabini like I saw you look at Fleur Delacour.”

Malfoy pushed onto his elbows, frowning. “What I like,” he said after a moment, reaching out to touch Harry’s cheek. “...is you. That’s all that matters.”

Harry hopes so. He really hopes so.

The kitchen door bangs open. Harry whirls around, nearly dropping a stack of bowls in his excitement. It is Hermione and Ginny. Harry slumps as they take their seats whispering excitedly.

“What are you two on about?” Ron asks.

“Nothing,” Hermione says, starting to straighten out Ron’s table settings. “Ginny fancies someone.”

“I do not!” Ginny exclaims. “I don’t even know him. Luna’s the one who said it.”

Now Ron is suspicious. “Said what?”

When Ginny won’t respond, Hermione says delicately, looking more at the forks she is arranging than at Ron, “Rumour has it Malfoy’s fit now.”

“What?” Harry and Ron both say. They exchange embarrassed looks.

Ginny is trying to conceal her smile by bowing her head and folding a napkin into a droopy swan. “Apparently, he and Snape went to the Lovegoods’ house this summer to collect some rare potions ingredients her dad had picked up somewhere. Anyway, Luna swore that he took off his outer robes when they were in the greenhouse, and...well, you know.”

Why are you telling us this?” Ron asks, flustered.

“Well, you asked!”

“That’s enough of that talk,” Mrs Weasley says, setting the gravy down manually. “I won’t have any of you making the boy uncomfortable, whether it’s by making him feel unwelcome or making him feel too welcome.”

Ginny’s mouth drops open. “Mum, I wasn’t—”

“Come along upstairs, Ginevra. Let’s get you into some more modest clothes, now that I think of it. That shirt is rather revealing.”

Ginny makes an outraged noise, shoots Hermione a look, and follows Mrs Weasley upstairs.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione sit in silence until Ron clears his throat.

“Don’t worry, Harry. He’ll never lay a finger on her. I’ll see to it.”

Harry is startled. It’s like Ron has been peeking inside his mind, seeing how his thoughts went from eager to see Malfoy, to pleased at the thought of him disrobing in the sticky heat of the greenhouse, to mildly jealous at the thought of Ginny fancying him. Only then does Harry realize what Ron and Hermione are actually assuming: Harry is jealous because he is supposed to like Ginny, not Malfoy.

“Oh, yeah, right,” he says quickly. “It’s fine. I don’t think Malfoy would care, anyway.”

“Better not,” Ron says, jabbing a ladle into the gravy.

Hermione tilts her head towards the door. “Now’s your chance to find out. I can hear them coming.”

She’s right. Two deep voices are growing louder as they approach the kitchen door, which swings open with such force that it shakes the spices on the shelves.

“—should have thought of that before you came to stay at Spinner’s End,” Snape is saying, charging into the kitchen.

Malfoy is hot on his heels. “How was I to know we were really going to be brewing potions and studying Dark Arts all summer? I thought that was just a cover to get me out of my father’s house.”

“It was a cover. That does not mean I’m not going to make you useful while I’m minding you.”

“Minding me! I thought I was making myself useful—risking my neck, spying for your little club.”

Our club, as you put it, is doing you more favours than you are doing it. You’d be wise to remember that.” Snape faces the trio abruptly. “Where is Dumbledore?”

Harry’s makes a face. “Er, Professor Dumbledore is coming?”

“You thought we were here to merrily break bread? It’s an Order meeting, Potter.”

Snape does not wait for response before sliding into the farthest possible seat from the three of them. Harry is disappointed when Malfoy sits across from Snape without a word.

Over the next ten minutes, more Order members file in. Lupin and Tonks come together, followed by Shacklebolt and Mad-Eye Moody, then Hagrid, who comes bearing an enormous flagon of homemade whiskey, and other Weasleys emerge from their rooms at some point, too. Everyone seems interested in Draco Malfoy’s aloof presence, but probably no one more than Harry. Malfoy hasn’t even looked at him, which feels wrong and quite unexpected. He puts it out of his mind in time to see Ginny slink back into the kitchen with a coy smile, trying to pretend she’s not wondering what’s under Malfoy’s heavy black brewing robes.

Ron springs up, saying, “Saved your favourite seat, Gin! Right between me and Hermione. There you go. Budge over, Harry.”

Harry finds himself pressed against Malfoy, who smells as if he has freshly washed with his favourite shampoo, the one with piney afternote. He tries to touch Malfoy as little as possible, since Malfoy seems intent on staring out the window, stiff and erect as a broom, even when Harry specifically looks at the side of his head for signs of acknowledgement.

Mrs Weasley has followed Ginny in, trying to look cheerful. “Well, tuck in, everyone! Or are you all waiting for me to spoon feed you the turkey?”

“Oh, are we having turkey, dear?” Mr Weasley says, clapping his hands together and looking around.

“Well, of course we’re having—OH NO!” She throws up her kitchen towel and scurries to the oven, releasing a cloud of smoke as she opens it. “Oh dear, oh dear....”

As it turns out, the turkey is fine, and Mrs Weasley places it on the table (levitates it, really, to Ron’s chagrin) just a little browner than intended.

“Let’s eat. No use starting the meeting till Dumbledore arrives,” says Mr Weasley. He begins to dole out generous portions of meat.

Soon the kitchen is alive with conversation. Harry has nearly forgotten about Malfoy as he and Ron chatter about the Chudley Cannons’ recent miraculous victory.

“Doesn’t matter if the other team’s Seeker crashed his broom and had to play the match running around on the pitch,” Ron is saying around a turkey leg. He points it at Harry. “Sound win in my book, sound win.”

“I like your robes, Malfoy,” someone says out of the blue. It’s Ginny, leaning around Ron’s shoulder.

Malfoy snorts, ladling gravy onto his meat. “They’re Snape’s. Tell him.”

Snape looks down his nose, like he’s daring Ginny to compliment his fashion taste.

“Severus,” Mrs Weasley interjects, “You’re not eating. You must be famished after all that brewing and training with Draco, and these Order meetings, and the other meetings.” She gives him a meaningful look. “Here now, give me your plate. Would you like white or dark—?”

“It is unnecessary. I am here on business,” Snape says.

“Well, at least let me make you a package to take home.”

Malfoy is smiling snidely. “I, for one, am thrilled to be eating something not from a can for once this summer. Mrs Weasley, your cooking is divine.”

“I see,” she says, both flattered and uncomfortable. “How nice of you to say, dear.”

“That’s a relief,” Fred whispers to Harry and Ron. “I always thought Snape scraped his meals off the side of the road.”

“Or fished them out of You-Know-Who’s rubbish bin,” adds George.

“Or kidnapped them from a zoo.”

“Or an orphanage!”

Boys,” Mr Weasley says, frowning over this glasses. Apparently they weren’t whispering very quietly.

As Harry is trying not to smile, he notices Malfoy is snickering into his goblet. He looks over the rim, and their eyes meet. Just as quickly, Malfoy looks back at his plate.

Snape is scraping back his chair. “I see no reason to stay if Dumbledore is not—”

“I haven’t smelled anything this delicious since your turkey last Easter, Molly!”

Dumbledore gliding into the kitchen, his eyes sparkling, his arms thrown wide in greeting as he takes in the sight of the feast. Not for the first time in recent months, Harry notices his shrivelled, blackened hand. He thinks of the last time he saw it, in the hospital wing of Hogwarts, as Madam Pomfrey pumped Dumbledore with rehydrating draughts while telling them both off for “messing about in some horrid cave full of undead.” Harry hasn’t seen Dumbledore since, and somehow the old man looks as good as new. Except for that decrepit hand.

“Severus, do sit and have seconds,” Dumbledore says, beaming as he takes his seat between Shacklebolt and Lupin. He serves himself a heap of dark meat and crusty bread.

“Albus, it is high time we decide what to do,” Snape spits. “I’m spending my summer doing menial Dark Arts instruction while—”

“Did you brine this turkey?” Dumbledore asks Mrs Weasley.

“I did! Overnight with garlic and thyme and—”

“Professor Dumbledore,” Lupin chimes in, “Severus is right. With everyone off doing their own tasks, the larger question is being ignored. There’s no point in Hagrid conversing with giants, in me conversing with werewolves, in Severus doing—well, whatever he’s doing—if we’re unable to bring down You-Know-Who himself.”

Dumbledore is nodding, though Harry cannot tell if he is nodding at Lupin or the spoon of buttered peas he has just sampled.

“Things around the Ministry are feeling uneasy,” Shacklebolt says slowly, making everyone shift in their seats and look left and right for reactions.

Moody leans over the table, his glass eye spinning. “Albus, I’ve been hearing rumours about plots to overthrow Hogwarts. We’ve got to get them before they get—”

“He has already taken Hogwarts,” Dumbledore says.

The table goes silent. Everyone looks shocked, except for Snape, who just looks even more annoyed, folding his arms.

“Severus, did you know this?” Lupin asks. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It did not seem relevant compared to the subjects of Quidditch and my dietary habits.”

“What are you going to do, Albus?” Mr Weasley asks.

Dumbledore finally puts down his fork and knife, wiping his mouth before he speaks. “Firstly, I have suspended all Hogwarts letters. Though, I imagine the new Headmaster will commence in sending them out to the students as he sees fit. What do you think you will do, Severus? Enact a purebloods-only policy?”

Once again, silence. Even Malfoy looks gobsmacked. Harry himself is growing dazed, sick, and unsteady in his seat.

“Snape?” he exclaims. “Snape’s been made Headmaster?”

The man in question gives Harry a look that would make a small child burst into tears. “It was only fitting, according to the Dark Lord,” he says, but seems to be addressing the whole table.

“Well, in spite of that, I’d still like to discuss our plan of action,” Lupin says, and then adds, “I’ve got some...safety concerns,” giving Tonks a sidelong look that Harry can’t read.

Dumbledore returns to his dinner. “That, dear Remus, we will discuss after pudding. Molly, lemon pie?”

“Apple crumble.”

“Curses!” He looks pointedly at Harry and Malfoy. “And I will see the two of you, as well.”

Harry looks into his lap and says, “Er—”

Malfoy stutters, “I don’t...see why....”

“No?” says Dumbledore, chewing. “Oh, pardon me, Draco. I thought you would want to discuss your options for staying out of Hogwarts this term. I don’t imagine you’ll want to be there with all your former Housemates returning and dealing with awkward questions the whole year....”

“Oh,” Malfoy says, relaxing. “Yes, let’s do that.”

“And, Harry, have you been strategizing for the plan of action we’ve discussed?”

“What?” Ron exclaims, looking hurt. “What’s he doing? Harry, why didn’t you tell me you were doing something?”

“Shush, don’t worry about it,” Harry says. He knows Ron is thinking about Horcruxes and horrible things. The whole table is looking at him, trying to appear like they aren’t. Malfoy has gone stiff again and is leaning towards him ever so slightly. “I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot, Professor.”

“And?”

“And. Well. I’m still unsure about my options.” Harry worries his brow, adding quietly, “Will you be back again before my birthday?”

Dumbledore pauses, frowning at his turkey. “I am afraid not.”

“I see. Then I would like to speak with you in private.”

Dinner is tense after that. Ron keeps elbowing him. Hermione keeps leaning around Ginny’s shoulder, while Mr and Mrs Weasley eye them all worriedly. And Harry’s on edge: now he will have to decide what to do about his gender by the end of tonight. He’s lost five whole days of thinking! Which is why it’s slightly comforting when Dumbledore first invites Malfoy to the garden after pudding. Harry heads to Ron’s room to flop onto the bed and stew in thought.

Ron and Hermione are leaning out the window, spying on the top of Malfoy’s head and the point of Dumbledore’s hat.

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Ron wonders.

“Probably exactly what Dumbledore said they were going to.”

“Dumbledore’s cryptic. By ‘keeping Malfoy out of Hogwarts,’ he probably means throwing him in a cage somewhere so he can’t rat out the Order’s plans.”

“Malfoy’s not on their side, Ron. He was feeding Harry information about the Death Eaters all last year, wasn’t he Harry?”

“Hm? Oh yeah.” Harry is on the edge of the bed, chewing his nails.

“Stop that. You’ll bleed.” Hermione plops next to him. “We need to talk about what we’re going to do.”

“What we’re going—? Oh. We’re doing nothing, Hermione. If anyone’s going to do anything, it’s me. So, don’t trouble yourself.”

“You really think we’re going to let you run off on your own to find those things?” Ron asks, folding his arms and leaning on the dresser.

“I don’t know. But I don’t want to think about it right now because, er...I don’t want to burden you.”

Hermione puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Harry, you were in such a state when you got back from that cave with Dumbledore. We helped you then, and we want to help you now. You don’t have to cover anything up.”

“I’m not covering anything up! Maybe I just have more pressing things to think about than Horcruxes right now! Did you ever think of that?”

Before he knows it, Harry is rushing out of the bedroom, leaving his friends staring at each other confused.

Of course, he didn’t mean what he said. He cares a great deal about the Horcruxes and defeating Voldemort and putting all this behind him, but he can’t focus on it for more than a moment without thinking about Dumbledore's ruddy gender spell. His body, his identity, his mind, his emotions, and certainly his relationship with Malfoy might start to change at any moment. How can he possibly cope with all that and save the world? Imagine! Harry is duelling with Voldemort and suddenly he can’t think straight because his balls have decided to drop!

He’s got to resolve this before he can discuss plans with Ron and Hermione.

He finds himself in the garden. He is on the other side of a hedge, where two garden gnomes are sticking their tongues out at him. He imagines Mrs Weasley will have him and Ron cleaning those out before Bill and Fleur’s wedding, but right now the gnomes don’t matter. Harry hears voices.

“It is simply not safe, Draco, for you or any of us. I will not allow you to remain in your father’s care while you’re in the Order. Perhaps if you were better trained, but for now—”

“But how can you keep me with Snape? He’s a monster! He’s ruthless with my training and relentless about the studying and the wandless magic and—”

“I have instructed Professor Snape to do what it takes to make you a competent spy. If you find his methods harsh, do direct some of your blame to me.”

“Oh, I do. You’re as bad as the Dark Lord, holding me hostage like—”

“I am not holding you against your will. And you should count yourself lucky you have never met this man you compare me to. If you had, I imagine you would be running back to Spinner’s End straight away.”

There is silence. When Dumbledore speaks again, he is gentler.

“Draco, I do not see in your eyes that you would willingly betray us if I sent you home. But I do not underestimate Voldemort’s tactics if he became interested in what you’ve seen in my care. Despite this, I’m not in the business of forcing people to do what they don’t want to do. You can make your own choice. Remain in the Order and listen to Professor Snape—study what he says, practice what he says, and make yourself suitable to mingle with Death Eaters without fear of succumbing to their probing. Or leave. But I warn you, once you take your leave, we will be hard-pressed to accept you back.”

There’s a scuffing sound, like a shoe kicking dirt, and then Malfoy snaps, “Do I really have to stay in this hovel while Snape’s gone? I could take the opportunity to clean his house while he’s away. I’ve got elves who’d do it in a snap.”

“While I find that gracious of you, I don’t think Professor Snape would appreciate it,” Dumbledore says amusedly. “Besides, it would be unsafe to have you there alone. For all the same reasons we’ve just discussed. The Weasleys will keep you comfortable.”

There is ruffling of leaves, clouding of dirt, and Harry sees Malfoy sweep past the hedge to make his way towards the Burrow.

Dumbledore says, “Were you impatient for your turn, Harry?”

Harry rounds the hedge, finding Dumbledore smiling at him. “Sorry.”

“No matter. I can’t imagine Mr Malfoy’s circumstances are very secret from you.” When Harry can only drag his toe in the dirt, Dumbledore continues, “When you never called on me for guidance, I assumed that meant you would let the spell run out and let your male side take over.”

“I had thought about it,” Harry admits. “But I’m afraid. I don’t know what it will be like, being male. This is the only body I’ve ever known.”

“Naturally, you are clinging to what is most familiar to you—like Mr Malfoy. He is unsure whether his father has his best interests at heart, yet he would still prefer to be at Malfoy Manor, even while Voldemort resides there. Sometimes the things that feel the best are not for the best.”

“Are you trying to persuade me?”

Dumbledore closes his eyes for a beat. “I did this to you. I would like to see to it you make a choice that will give you the best chance for happiness.”

“Which choice do you think that is?”

He is now looking past Harry at something in the distance. When Harry turns, he sees Malfoy sitting on the roof of one of the Burrow’s middle stories, glaring into the setting sun.

“It is most certainly one way or the other,” says Dumbledore. “Most certainly. Though which way, I cannot say. That should depend on how you feel. Do you identify with one sex over the other?”

Harry thinks of Quidditch, and motorcycles, and roughhousing with Ron, and practical jokes with Fred and George, and how he wants to be cool like Bill; he thinks of feeling reserved, even shy, and that flutter in his stomach whenever Malfoy smiles down at him, or pulls him close, or compares the sizes of their hands—his large and Harry’s small; and then he wonders if those things can really be categorized as masculine or feminine at all.

At last he says, “I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it yet.”

“I have a feeling, if you want to choose female, you will have think about it right away.”

“Can’t you recast the spell? Make me stay the same for a little while longer?”

“Harry,” Dumbledore says cautiously, eyeballing Malfoy again.

“Please,” Harry hisses, stepping closer. He can’t help it. It’s too much, too scary, too uncertain. “I need more time to think—to make the right decision, not just any decision. Just until my next birthday.”

“Are you asking this because you are unsure what you want?”

He hesitates. “Yes.”

“The spell will break when the caster does,” Dumbledore whispers to himself.

“What do you mean? You’re the caster. Nothing’s going to happen to you.”

Dumbledore’s black hand twitches. He covers it with his good hand. “If it is what you want, I owe it to you. Meet me under the large oak tree after the Order meeting, but not until the moon is high in sky.”

Harry is disappointed again when Malfoy doesn’t join them at the Order meeting. He doesn’t seem interested in seeking Harry out at all. Harry tries not to take it personally, but thinks that after being apart for several weeks, he’d at least be interested in saying hello.

That night, Harry makes his excuses to his friends and slinks down to the oak tree, holding in his arms a small basket containing two chicken eggs, a jar of honey, a sprig of parsley, and a lily from the Weasley’s pond.

“I feel like we’re having a picnic,” he says, handing it to Dumbledore, who has lingered when the rest of the Order has gone home.

Dumbledore seems to have descended from his chipper mood to something drowsy. Perhaps it’s been a long day. He takes the basket and sets each item in the groove of a circle he’s etched in the ground with his wand. “Eggs for the reproductive organs,” he says. “honey for health, parsley for rebirth, and a lily for your mother’s spirit.”

“Nothing for my father’s?”

Dumbledore digs in his robes, pulling out a Golden Snitch. This is the first time his blue eyes brighten. “The first one you ever caught. I have a feeling James was with you that day. Keep it for yourself after this.” He places the Snitch near the lily and directs Harry to stand in the centre of the circle, where he pulls out his wand, points, and says, “Let’s hope I remember all the words.”

He closes his eyes, and begins to chant an unrecognizable incantation in muttered strings of Latin. Harry picks out words like “vera anima” and “pectus,” which he thinks mean “true soul” and “heart,” but then he thinks that “pectus” can also mean breast, and wonders, uncomfortably, how literal Dumbledore is being. At the end, he flicks his wand three times and says, “and to Artemis, Aphrodite, and Merlin, I beseech.”

“Merlin wasn’t a god,” Harry says, confused.

“No, but he might still come in useful. All right, Harry. Until your 18th birthday.”

Dumbledore pulls up his hood, slouching and somewhat pale after the spell, and begins down the hill away from the Burrow and the anti-Apparition wards that keep Harry safe here.

“Professor,” he blurts out, running after him. He doesn’t know what to say, but something is troubling him. “Sir, are you all right? You seem off.”

Dumbledore smiles. He puts the good hand on Harry’s cheek. “I will be, dear boy.”

But Harry’s stomach hurts as he watches Dumbledore limp away and Disapparate into the night.

The Burrow is silent when Harry sneaks back in. He stops to a fill a glass with water, and is nearly to the staircase when he hears a whisper from the drawing room.

“Potter.”

Harry jumps. He searches the room, his eyes adjusting to the darkness, and finally sees Malfoy throwing a blanket off himself and rising from the sofa.

“What were you doing? I saw wandlight. Was Dumbledore...changing you?”

Malfoy is close enough that his face is now visible. It is tight, and his eyes seem to flick across Harry’s jeans like he’s afraid what’s underneath has been mangled beyond repair.

“Well, I don’t look like a girl, do I?”

“No,” Malfoy says, pausing nervously. “So, you’re a boy?”

“No. Neither still. I asked him to buy me some time. Until my next birthday.”

“I see.” His shoulders relax. He looks around the room, at the Weasley family clock, at the patched upholstery, and Mrs Weasley’s doilies. “This place is strange. They almost live on top of one another.”

“They do, if you think about it. There’s a bedroom on each story.”

He hums humourlessly, and raises his eyes to Harry’s; in this light, of lack of it, they look more black than gray. “I’m glad you’re here, though.”

“Are you?”

Malfoy reaches for Harry’s shirt, pulls him close, and Harry almost spills his water with the force of Malfoy’s kiss. His free hand curls around Malfoy’s back, and he releases a breathy moan—Ginny and Luna were right. Malfoy feels like he’s packed on a half stone in muscle. It was not visible beneath Snape’s batlike robes. Now he wears a tee-shirt and cotton pyjamas, and every firm plane is apparent.

Malfoy has got his hands up Harry’s shirt. “Can we—?”

Harry is about to nod, about to throw caution to the wind and mount Malfoy right there on Mr Weasley’s favourite chair, but then a door creaks open upstairs.

“Fuck,” Malfoy says.

“We’ll work it out,” Harry promises, and pecks him goodnight.

On his way up to Ron’s room, Harry is so lost in his giddiness that he bumps into Ginny, who is tip-toeing downstairs.

“Ow, you poked me in the ribs!” she whispers.

Harry narrows his eyes. “What are you doing?”

“I was just—er—getting a glass of water.”

“Here, take mine.”

“But I—”

“Ginny,” he says firmly. “Go to bed. Now.”

She crosses her arms. “Harry, if you wanted me, then you should have done something about it.” She whirls around, hair flying, and tromps back up the stairs.

Harry has trouble keeping his promise to Malfoy over the next few days. For one, Malfoy has a tendency to disappear in the daytime. (Mr Weasley says he knows Malfoy is at the Burrow somewhere, otherwise his protective charms would begin to wail). For two, anytime Malfoy is around, Ron is very protective of Harry (and Hermione and Ginny, for that matter).

“I don’t like the way he looks at you,” he tells Harry one day, as the three of them are laying under the big oak tree. “I think he’s plotting something. I don’t trust him one bit.”

“Honestly,” says Hermione, “if Dumbledore trusts him and your mum and dad trust him, then why can’t you?”

“And you!” Ron says, stooping over Hermione. “I’ve seen the way you look at him. Goggling while the prat is riding his broom around the house. Probably up there scouting the place out for weak points, and you’re looking at him like he’s Witch Weekly’s latest heartthrob!”

“I—have—not!” Hermione stammers. “He’s not bad looking, but do you really think I would goggle someone who’s spent the better part of our acquaintanceship calling me a Mudblood?”

“Well, I—”

“Certainly not! And why would you care if I were?”

Ron’s ears go pink. He lays back down. “He’s just a prat, is all.”

“He’s not a prat with a Dark Mark, at least,” Harry says. “Hermione’s right. Dumbledore trusts him, so you should try to give him a chance unless he proves Dumbledore wrong. Hey,” he exclaims, patting the pockets of his jeans. “Have you seen the Snitch Dumbledore gave me? I’d been keeping it in my pocket.”

“You probably lost it in that cluttered room of Ron’s,” Hermione says, putting her nose in some book Dumbledore gave her.

“Probably Malfoy stole it,” Ron mutters.

“Would you shut it about Malfoy?” Harry snaps. “He could buy a flock of Snitches. He wouldn’t want mine. It probably just fell under the bed, or something.”

It isn’t under the bed, or in the closet, or in the laundry, but Mrs Weasley is all too pleased to suggest they clean Ron’s room while they search. In the end, Harry decides it most likely ended up in Fred and George’s room and will pop out someday when the place explodes. Anyway, he gets a new Golden Snitch in the form of a birthday cake from Mrs Weasley. Harry’s well-wishers applaud as she floats it out to the Burrow’s garden, and Harry feels happier than he has since—well. He looks down the table at Malfoy, who is sitting between Hagrid and Gabrielle Delacour, looking like he’d rather be doing anything than eating cake amongst these people. Harry’s heart goes out to him for a moment, but then he reminds himself that Malfoy’s not exactly doing anything to better his situation. He could seek out Harry if he wanted to. He could be nice to everyone if he wanted to.

“Harry, open your gifts, dear!” Mrs Weasley is saying.

He is overwhelmed by the generosity showered on him: books from Lupin and Tonks, clothes that aren’t the size of a baby elephant from Bill and Fleur, a new Sneakoscope from Hermione, some Quidditch gloves from Ginny, and a beautiful watch from Mr and Mrs Weasley, among other things.

“Ronnie, we thought you bought Harry a book of some kind,” Fred says suggestively.

Ron shows Fred two fingers. He’d privately given Harry a book called Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, and while Harry is touched, he’s sad he has no use for it. Maybe he’ll re-gift it to Neville.

“There’s one more here,” Hermione says, handing Harry a tiny package wrapped in gold paper. “There’s no tag.”

He opens it. It’s his lost Snitch.

Harry rolls his eyes at Fred and George. “Ha ha, thanks, you two. Is it going to explode in my hand?”

“Not from us, mate,” says Fred.

“But good idea,” says George, whipping out a quill and a tiny notebook.

“Then who—?”

“Turn it over,” someone says at the end of the table. It’s Malfoy, lounging with his arms behind his head, looking completely bored.

Tentatively, Harry does. There’s an engraving on the Snitch now. He reads it aloud.


Harry Potter:
Hogwarts’ Finest Seeker

The long table goes silent.

The silence is punctuated by rapturous cooing from Fleur and Gabrielle.

“Because zey are rival players,” Fleur is saying, putting a hand to her chest. “Comme c'est mignon!”

There are murmurs of agreement, mixed with shocked but pleased expressions, and Hagrid even pats Malfoy on the back, nearly pressing him face-first into his cake, saying, “Always knew yeh had a nice side, lad!”

Harry comes out his stupor, feeling warm all over. “Thank you, Malfoy. I didn’t expect this.”

Malfoy raises his eyebrows, twitches his mouth, and looks away.

The rest of the party goes as expected, with a little too much of Ron saying, “I still don’t trust him, Harry, I really don’t,” and a little too much drinking. Even Mrs Weasley is red in the cheeks, hugging one of her children around the neck and barking with laughter. Harry is too tipsy to tell which child it is until she says his name.

“Charlie, don’t you want to look presentable for the wedding, at least? Since you wouldn’t let me cut your hair for poor Harry’s birthday?”

At the mention of his name, Harry hazily remarks, “I like it long. It’s nice.”

Charlie’s eye glitter over his butterbeer. “See, Mum? No one cares but you.”

He winks. Harry’s stomach flips, and he looks away. He tries to catch Malfoy’s eye, thinking he’s the only person Harry’s stomach should be flipping over, but Malfoy has disappeared again.

The party winds down late, probably too late considering the Weasley-Delacour wedding is the very next day. Ron is so zonked he’s foregone snoring for once, while Harry is climbing into his makeshift bed on the floor feeling like he could sleep for a week straight.

He doesn’t sleep five minutes before he hears a whisper.

“Hey.”

Harry bolts up, groping for his wand and glasses. A hand stops him.

“Calm down. It’s me.”

“Malfoy,” he hisses, looking up at the bed, where Ron is nose-down in the pillow. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes.” He is kneeling over Harry, fully dressed. “I couldn’t wait any longer. Seeing you walk around this place. It’s driving me mad.”

He kisses Harry, putting a hand beneath his head to pull him closer. He smells slightly of butterbeer and strongly of piney shampoo. Harry feels so nostalgic he doesn’t protest when Malfoy sheds his outer robes and sprawls on top of him. When he feels how passionate Malfoy has become—and that is not in reference to his mouth—Harry stops the kissing.

“Hold on, this is bonkers,” he whispers, flicking his eyes to Ron.

“Oh, he won’t wake up.” He grins and leans down again.

Harry turns his cheek. “What? Did you do something?”

“May have put a little something in his drink tonight. One of the perks of living with Snape is free access to some pretty interesting potions.”

“Malfoy! How could you? I’m having a hard enough time convincing Ron you’re not out to get us without you poisoning him.”

“I like to think of it as sparing the poor bugger of what I’m about to do to you.”

“Oh God,” he says, as Malfoy pushes his hands aside and shucks off Harry’s pyjamas. “Oh God,” he says, when Malfoy starts on his own trousers and he sees Malfoy’s cock spring out for the first time all summer. “This is nutters, Malfoy. We can’t—”

“Potter, it’s a Peaceful Sleeping draught. He’s fine. He’ll have some lovely dreams, while we have some privacy. It was the only thing I could think of. Sweet Merlin.”

He is looking at Harry’s breasts now, while Harry wonders where their clothes went. He gasps. Malfoy is taking a nipple into his mouth—the whole breast, really, as Harry hardly has much to speak of—and is rolling it under his tongue. Malfoy looks up, his eyes shining with lust, beginning to leave open-mouthed kisses down Harry’s ribs...and then his stomach....

Harry lays, thinking about their sexual past. Malfoy has always been crude in his ministrations, nagging for blowjobs, fisting his cock with fervour over Harry’s face, conveniently losing their condoms, talking in the foulest, dirtiest language, leaving Harry to fend for his own climax, and Harry understands—this is how Draco Malfoy is. He is the same Slytherin they met on the train, the cajoler, the whiner, the spoilt, and the egotist. But there is another side to it: there is the hunger in Malfoy’s gaze which lights a fire of arousal between Harry’s legs; there are those moments when his smirk softens to a contented line across his handsome, angular face, and Harry feels like the only person Malfoy can see; there is the spring in his step when he pursues Harry through the Hogwarts corridors, down into the dungeons, and straight into the first private corner they can find. There is Draco, the lover, who Harry likes very much. Even still—Draco, the lover, has never put his mouth where he is putting it now.

“What are you—?”

Malfoy’s teeth gleam in the darkness, his mouth wide like the Cheshire cat’s, and then he closes that mouth over Harry’s labia.

“Oh my—oh my—”

A high, gritty noise escapes Harry’s throat, for Malfoy is grabbing his thighs, pulling him down the duvet, and sucking on the whole of him. Harry struggles to lift his head now that it’s so far from the pillow. He can see shoulders moving as Malfoy licks. He is gentle. He is deliberate. Harry dearly wants to watch. He pushes up onto his elbows. His body curls and his legs draw up more, and Malfoy is there, not a foot away, with his face in there, and it feels so good. Malfoy isn’t just licking it. He is practically worshipping it. His eyes are half-lidded, his tongue slow and careful, his hands gripping Harry’s legs abruptly, only to relax and stroke them with care. Harry sighs, and drops back down.

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Malfoy says, rubbing his cheek against Harry’s wet thighs. “I just never did it.”

“Don’t stop!”

It is shocking. Malfoy does as he’s told.

But Harry enjoys it with guilt. Ron is sleeping only three feet away. He fumbles for his wand, thanking Merlin he’s now seventeen and has no Trace, and flicks it towards the bed. The covers pile over Ron’s head, and it is almost like Harry and Malfoy are alone.

He puts his hands into Malfoy’s hair. It is fluidly soft, falling over his ears. He has tilted his head to one side, so he can look Harry in the eye as he licks. He presses firmly into the folds of Harry’s inner labia, draws his tongue up, parting them wetly, and then sweeps across the clitoris as an afterthought. Harry wonders if he knows how sensitive that part is. He puts his hand on Malfoy’s neck, urging him upward. Malfoy catches his wrists, pressing them into the sheets, and resumes licking with a grin.

The bastard knows.

It is several minutes before he makes the agonizing ascent up Harry’s labia to press the point of his tongue against the clitoris. Harry is shaking with anticipation. Malfoy begins to flick his tongue out, and then briefly close his lips over the swollen flesh; there is a sucking sound, much like a kiss. Harry wraps his legs around Malfoy’s neck, pleading with his body for more, more, more, and at last Malfoy relents. He buries his face into the wetness, moaning, his dick bobbing hard past his head and shoulders, and Harry thinks of that hardness as he shivers out the tightest, longest, most starbursting orgasm he’s ever had.

Malfoy is between his legs, nose to nose, in an instant. “Was that good, Potter? Did I lick your pussy right?”

Of course, Malfoy has to ruin the moment with his gob. Harry is too euphorically tired to care. He spreads his legs while Malfoy penetrates him. His balls are slapping against Harry’s arse as he whispers, probably mostly to himself, things like, “Take it,” and “So tight now, aren’t you?” and “Yes, you’re so wet.”

At last, he whispers something that makes Harry’s ear perk.

“Mmm, I’ve missed this.”

Harry can’t help opening his eyes and wondering aloud. “Have you missed me?”

“Hm?” Malfoy stops, buried to the hilt. His eyes are hazy with longing. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think. You won’t even look at me. I know it’s strange...whatever’s happening between us. But I don’t see why you have to avoid me...keep up this charade that you don’t like me.”

“I like you.”

“I can’t tell with the way you act towards me in front of other people.”

Malfoy huffs. He moves his hips slowly, as if to prevent himself from going soft, and then he buries his face in the crook of Harry’s neck. Harry thinks he means to finish without a word, until he begins to speak. “You think I don’t like you? Did I not share my secrets with you? And risk kissing you in the corridors, where anyone might see us? Did I not humiliate myself, holding your hand, when I had no idea if you wanted to hold mine back? Did I not stay with you at Hogwarts when all my friends left?”

“You didn’t do that for me.” Just the same, he runs his toes behind Malfoy’s thighs and closes his legs around him.

“You’re right. I didn’t. But something tells me I wouldn’t have done it at all if you hadn’t been there.” He is picking up his pace, growing harder, longer inside of Harry. “I missed you, not just this. Believe me. I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but Weasley and Granger are always lurking around.”

“They’re my friends. You’re allowed to talk to me, even if they’re—”

Malfoy doesn’t seem to be listening. “You’re beautiful. When I look into your eyes, I think you’re so beautiful.” He turns his head and whispers, almost too quiet to hear. “Believe me?”

Harry closes his eyes. “I believe you.”

“Open your eyes.”

He does. Malfoy is staring at him as he moves. His mouth is open, nothing coming out but his strained breath, until he says, “Do you want me to come?”

“You don’t need my permission.”

“I want you to want it.”

“I do,” Harry admits. He doesn’t admit that it’s his favourite part, from the wild expression in Malfoy’s eye, to his gritting teeth, to his grunting and moaning, to the way he puts his full weight onto Harry until there is a warm, twitching feeling inside. It makes Harry wetter, wanting to do it all over again, but he knows Malfoy will not recover fast.

When Malfoy is half-asleep, growing soft between Harry’s legs, he remembers something with a start.

“I got a period last month.”

Malfoy’s eyelashes flutter on his neck. “Really.”

“Yes.”

If Harry were in Malfoy’s position, he’d probably be upset or scared, but Malfoy simply rolls off him, looks at the ceiling, and says, “You always were a late bloomer.”

“Oy!” He smacks Malfoy on the chest. It’s a really nice chest.

“I’m sure Snape has some kind of morning-after elixir in his stores. At least one with abortive properties. He’s coming for me tomorrow, using the wedding for cover. I’ll owl it to you. You should have had me pull out, imbecile. You know what happens when you let boys cum in your fannie, don’t you?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Spare me the birds and the bees lesson.”

“Wizards call it,” he says, rolling on his side and smirking, “the dragon and the eggs. I’ll give you one guess what the dragon is.”

“No one would confuse that with a dragon, Malfoy.”

“What?” He looks genuinely, hilariously offended. “This dragon will spit fire all over your face if you don’t shut it.”

“Just try! I’m Hogwarts’ finest Seeker, remember? Which means I’m faster than you!”

“You’re fast, are you?” His offence has melted into a devilish smile, and he has Harry by the wrists in a moment. Harry pushes as Malfoy bears down. “Too bad. You’ve lost already. I ought to take back that Snitch.”

“You only engraved it! The Snitch was already mine, thief.” Harry pushes again. Malfoy nearly topples over. He steadies himself, throwing a heavy leg over Harry, and they begin to twist in the sheets.

“You ought to stop calling me names, Scarhead.”

Harry laughs. “You ought to stop being an arse.”

“You shouldn’t wrestle! You might be with child. Poor delicate thing.”

“Well, if you hadn’t thrown all the condoms out of a tower window at Hogwarts!”

“The wind took them.”

“Disgusting thought, carrying your child, anyway. It’d stab me on the way out with it’s pointy face!” There is tumbling, more laughing, sweating, and grappling, and at last Malfoy has him pinned again. “We should stop—we should stop!” Harry pants.

“Why? He won’t wake.” Malfoy is calming down, too.

“Well, someone else in the house might.”

Harry doesn’t know who initiates it, but now they are kissing. It’s as soft a kiss as Harry can remember, much like their first real kiss at the entrance to the dungeons at Hogwarts. When it ends, Malfoy is rubbing his nose against Harry’s, their foreheads pressed together. Their hands are still entwined above their heads, but Malfoy is not holding him captive and Harry is not trying to get away.

“You’re leaving, then?” Harry asks.

“Yeah. Don’t think I’ll be back before you three decide to run off and have your adventure.”

His eyes widen. “You know?”

“Everyone knows. You’re not that secretive.” Malfoy closes his eyes. Opens them. “You know, you don’t have to do it.”

“Do what? Kill the Dark Lord when I’m the only one who can?”

“Yes.”

“And how’s that?”

Malfoy swallows deeply. “You go to Dumbledore, complete the sex change, and run away with me.”

It’s hard to breathe suddenly. Harry searches Malfoy’s face, but sees no humour. “What?” he chokes.

“I’ve thought of everything. You’d be permanently disguised as a girl, right? No more Harry Potter—no more danger for you. As for me, we’d go stay with my cousins in Quebec, where the Death Eaters have no influence. It’d be perfect. We’d just have to change your name.”

“To what?”

“I was thinking Malfoy.” He is clutching Harry’s hand brutally tight. He sees the shock in Harry’s eyes, and adds, “It’d be easier that way, of course.”

“Is that what you want? To get married? This doesn’t sound like you, Malfoy.”

He sighs, sliding off Harry and leaning his head on a fist. “Well, I’m not exactly in the best position either, am I? The idea of a new life...no obligations...no fears...sounds appealing, don’t you think?”

“It does.”

Ron flails in his sleep, startling them. Harry looks at the freckled hand now hanging off the side of the bed.

He says, “I can’t.”

Malfoy nods, mouth thin. “Didn’t think so. Worth a shot, anyway.”

“Are you still going to go?”

“I don’t know.” He sits up and pulls his shirt on. Harry thinks he will leave, but suddenly he lays back down, looking serious. “Be careful.”

“It might not be as dangerous as all that.”

“It will, and you know it. Be cautious, not a Gryffindor. Do as I say.”

“Do as Dumbledore says.”

He expects Malfoy to be upset about his eavesdropping, but he simply frowns and says, “Maybe.”

They lay together, Malfoy’s hand stroking from his thigh all the way up to his ribcage, until the room becomes light, birds begin to sing from beyond Ron’s window, and Malfoy is forced to sneak back to the sofa.

“Draco,” Harry says, tiptoeing onto the landing. Malfoy returns from the stairs, and they share a last, long kiss.

“Have you ever called me that before?” he asks, his hand on Harry’s cheek.

Harry laughs, feeling himself go red. “Not unless you were inside me.”

Malfoy smiles. It’s not a smirk. It’s a smile, and it makes Harry fight for breath again. “Then I shall venture to hear it more often.”

Harry doesn’t know if that’s a sweet or dirty remark, but he doesn’t care. He kisses Malfoy’s palm and tells him goodnight.

The next day, a gaggle of Weasleys, Order members, and Veela cousins arrive for the wedding. Harry hates having to be Polyjuiced as “Cousin Barney,” but it gives him a chance to sit amongst a crowd of witches and wizards without being bothered. From his reception table, he nurses a butterbeer and watches, tickled, as Luna Lovegood asks Malfoy to dance. He is surprised to see Malfoy accept only to stand rhythmically tapping his foot as Luna spins circles around him like some kind of fairy. He catches Harry’s eye, and quirks an amused eyebrow.

There is more dancing, drinking, singing, and feasting. Harry finds himself craning his neck, wondering if Dumbledore is going to make an appearance, but the only elderly people he can find are Auntie Muriel and Elphias Doge; he sits and converses with them because he can’t for the life of him think of an excuse to go sit next to Malfoy, who is somehow surrounded by Fleur’s cousins no matter where he wanders. Harry is worried. Not just because he’s jealous. He has something else he wants to say to Malfoy before Snape swoops in to take him away. He just can’t think of the words to express the feelings churning inside of him.

After a while, Hermione throws herself into a chair next to Harry’s. “I simply can’t dance anymore,” she sighs, rubbing one foot. “Harry, are you okay?”

But Harry is still in his head. He is thinking about Malfoy and his next birthday, and wondering if he will simply try to put off his gender decision every birthday forevermore. And he’s wondering how much his relationship with Malfoy is influencing his hesitance.

“Harry?”

He opens his mouth to tell Hermione he’s fine, but suddenly he thinks he’s not: a glowing, translucent lynx is streaking over the dancers’ heads. It is slender and graceful, which is why it is surprising when it speaks in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s slow baritone.

The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.

The party erupts in chaos. The wards break. People begin to Disapparate just as hooded figures appear. Hexes fly. Hermione is beside him, shouting for Ron, and while Harry is concerned he is also looking for Malfoy. He pushes through the crowd, towards the dance floor, and stops short, seeing an unfamiliar Death Eater stooping over Malfoy, his wand at Malfoy’s throat.

“I don’t trust you, brat,” the man is saying. “Nor your father! So you’d better tell us where Potter is, or else—”

“I told you, I haven’t seen him here!”

Harry doesn’t think. He pulls out his wand and shouts, “Stupefy!

The man slumps over, leaving Malfoy wide-eyed in front of Harry. Harry reaches out, wants to say—something—but before he gets close enough, another Death Eater is sprinting by, not sparing a glance at Polyjuiced Harry, grabbing Malfoy by the arm and hauling him away.

Harry’s stomach drops. That Death Eater is too short to be Snape. He makes to follow, but now someone is grabbing him. He jerks and shouts, for Malfoy is disappearing into the crowd faster than Harry can keep track of him. He turns to throw a hex. He stops. Hermione is there.

Sound is blotted out, darkness falls upon him, and he is swept away from the Burrow.

“Where are we?” asks Ron.

“Tottenham Court Road,” says Hermione.

They find an alleyway and change their clothes, Harry beneath the Invisibility Cloak, and he can’t stop shaking. He can’t even speak as they make their way to a dingy diner.

He knows he’s selfish, fretting about Malfoy when they don’t even know if Ron’s family, Lupin, Tonks, the Lovegoods, or even Hagrid is okay. He knows he’s selfish to be thinking about his interests when the Ministry has fallen. But he’s never felt this way before: this devastating affection for another person, this inescapable draw to them whenever they are in proximity and guttural longing when they are away. He thinks of the fear in Malfoy’s eyes when he told Harry to be careful. He thinks of the anxiousness in his voice when he said the words “run away” and “Quebec” and “I was thinking Malfoy.” He thinks of all the feelings he, Harry, couldn’t fathom how to express as he watched Malfoy smiling in the fairy lights on the dance floor tonight. He wonders: are these feelings called lo—?

In the diner, two workmen are reaching for their wands, and Harry realizes he won’t have the luxury of thinking about feelings anytime soon.

Chapter Text

 

There is a quiet, hissing voice. Harry can hear it, but he cannot see the source. He feels, almost, like he is the source.

“Where is your boy?”

“I don’t know, my Lord,” a man responds, his voice shaking so violently that Harry can hardly make out the words that emanate from his dark hood. If not for the long, white-blond hair flowing out of either side of the hood, Harry would not have guessed the man was Lucius Malfoy. “Severus took him...I don’t know where...they’re supposed to be at Spinner’s End...but when I went to check, they were both—”

“You are accountable for your boy, not Severus.”

“Yes, my Lord. You are absolutely right.”

“And why was he at Spinner’s End? Why is he not here, with you, by your side as you serve me?”

“He wanted—Severus wanted—no! I myself wanted him to go there. Severus is training him in the art of spying. Occlumency, Legilimency, physical fitness, stealth, Potions, and Charms—the lot of it. My boy dearly wants to be an asset to your...I mean...our ambitions for the good of the wizarding world, my Lord.”

“And yet he has never stepped foot in my presence to declare his loyalty. Curious, Lucius. Most curious.”

“He’s had school, my Lord. And before that, he was distraught—his mother—”

“The Betrayer.”

The flowing hair begins to quiver. Lucius’ voice is barely audible. “Indeed. The...Betrayer. My son was...childishly attached to her. But he has grown. He is a man of duty now.”

There is a twang of amusement in the unembodied voice. “I should like to meet this man of duty. I wonder how dutiful he will prove to be. I should hope more so than you have proven.”

Lucius bows his head, and the source of the voice strolls down a row of more hooded figures. Harry can taste fear.

“Mr Goyle,” the voice says quietly, making a hefty man jump and gulp audibly. The man in this hood is so large of head that Harry can see two lips and a moustache poking out. “I gather your boy did not bother with the task I gave to him after Draco Malfoy failed to present himself to receive it. I gather, quite acutely, that Albus Dumbledore is still— ”

“M-my Lord, I will punish him most thoroughly....”

“No need. I will simply punish you instead. We want to protect our precious younglings, don’t we?”

Goyle makes a gurgling noise, and manages to nod.

“And now, for Mr Parkinson.” Harry moves along a row to a man standing taller and steadier than the rest. “Your daughter did a fine job informing you of the weak spots in Hogwarts’ wards. A Vanishing Cabinet, indeed. How clever. She will be handsomely rewarded, and so will you.”

“You are too kind, my Lord. Thank—”

There is a flash of light. Harry whips around to see a door opening. Several men are striding into the dark room with a boy in tow. The boy looks sweaty and round-eyed. He is trembling like a frightened animal. In the darkness, his blond hair shines, and Harry is nauseous to know that it is Draco Malfoy.

“Look what we found,” a gruff man says, throwing Malfoy at Harry’s feet. “Didn’t look to be spying either! Looked to be dancing with girls, drinking, smiling at members of the Order like a traitor.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Mulciber,” hisses the voice, “but is that not what one would expect of a spy? For him to blend into the background of the enemy? To get them to relax their opinion of the spy and let secrets slip?” Mulciber can only grunt nervously. The voice goes on, “So you took it upon yourself to...make Draco Malfoy’s association with us obvious? Thereby possibly preventing him from being useful in that capacity in the future?”

“I just thought, my Lord, you’d want to know what—”

“Mm. I thank you for taking initiative, but unfortunately it was the wrong initiative.” A white hand shoots out, pointing a wand. “Crucio!

Mulciber falls to the floor, curling up and shrieking like he’s being torn apart. Malfoy is pale, looking anywhere but the agonized man. That is when he accidentally catches Harry’s eye, going even paler, looking like he wants to pass out to escape the apparently terrifying gaze.

“But since you’re here,” the voice says, reaching out a free hand. It slides up Malfoy’s shoulder to his neck, and Harry can feel his heart thumping madly through his skin. “I would very much like to pick your brain.”

“Y-yes, my Lord. I’ve been doing everything I can, but s-still—”

“No, no.” The amused voice is back.

Malfoy shuts up. He looks at his father in sudden recognition, and then back to Harry. The wand pulls off Mulciber, this time touching Malfoy’s temple.

“I was being literal,” the voice says.

Malfoy’s pupils are the size of pinheads. Fear, uncertainty, and devastation are coming off him in hot waves.

Legilimens!

 

***

Harry sits up, choking on a sob.

The noise wakes Hermione and Ron, who are laying on either side of him on the drawing room floor of 12 Grimmauld Place. He touches his forehead, finding his scar swollen and so pained he can feel it throbbing under his fingers.

Ron grabs his shoulder. “You okay?”

“No.”

“Another dream?”

“Yes.”

“What about?” Hermione asks.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Harry, it might help for all of us to know. Just in case there’s helpful information in your dreams.” She is sitting up now, too, fishing a handkerchief out of her tiny bag. She hands it to Harry, and he cleans himself of sweat and tears. “And it might be easier if you weren’t the only one burdened.”

Harry sighs. He casts, “Lumos,” and they sit in a triangle in their nest of sleeping bags. “They took Malfoy.”

“Who did?” asks Ron.

“The Death Eaters.”

“Isn’t it his job to go with them?”

“Yes, but he wasn’t ready. That’s why Dumble...I mean, Sherbet Lemon had him staying with Snape and at the Burrow.” Harry fidgets with the handkerchief, feeling silly about the nickname. Ever since those Death Eaters found them on Tottenham Court Road, Hermione has been speculating there might be Taboos in effect, and they decided to rule out Voldemort’s name and Dumbledore’s, just in case. “Anyway, I saw Malfoy with You-Know-Who in my dream. He was casting Legilimens on him, and Malfoy seemed like he was looking his death in the face.”

Even Ron looks troubled. “Poor blighter.”

“I’m really worried about him,” Harry whispers. They are blinking at him, heads tilted, and he adds, “I mean...I’m worried about everyone, you know?”

“Try and put it out of your head,” Hermione says sensibly. “I know it’s hard, not knowing what’s going on, but we’ve got to focus on getting You-Know-Who’s locket out of the Ministry.”

Harry tries, but over the next couple weeks he is thinking about Malfoy every moment he isn’t monitoring the Ministry of Magic. He considers sending the newer, brighter Kreacher to check on Malfoy’s safety, but he’s devastated at the idea of Malfoy being caught in cahoots with them and doesn’t bother. He wonders if any of the Death Eaters hanging around outside Grimmauld Place are Malfoy, or Snape—even Lucius might be a comfort, for if Lucius is safe, then surely his son is, too. Harry, Ron, and Hermione move through autumn and into the woods, and Harry never finds out.

It is not as simple an adventure as Harry hoped, nor is it easy, obtaining the necklace, withstanding the negative effects of wearing the thing, slogging through days fast becoming cold and moist, or stumbling upon Dean Thomas and a group of goblins. They eavesdrop, and learn about the horrors of Muggle-borns being chased through wizarding society and about Ginny, Neville, and Luna attempting to steal the sword of Gryffindor from Snape’s office.

“At least they’re safe from the Carrows, it sounds like,” Hermione says one night in their tent, her face obscured behind that same book.

“Yeah, but Snape’s no help, is he?” says Harry. He is sitting by the fire, staring at the inscription in his Golden Snitch—Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Finest Seeker—with Malfoy’s face swimming in front of his eyes. For once, he’s growing worried about his lack of Voldemort visions. He would like to see Malfoy in that Death Eater circle, just to know he’s alive.

“Snape’s got to put on an act, Harry.”

“You know who’s also no help?” Ron asks, playing with some knick-knack in his bunk. “Bloody Dumble...Sherbet Lemon.”

Harry turns to him. “You’re right. He hasn’t tried to contact us once.”

He thinks of the night when Dumbledore recast Harry’s gender spell. He’d limped away, clutching that blackened hand, and Harry has the sinking feeling Dumbledore might not be ignoring them because he wants to.

“At least he gave me this cool night light before we left,” Ron says, rolling his eyes. He flicks the light. Hermione’s lantern goes out.

“Ron!”

“Sorry.”

The lights return.

“Why’d he give you that?” Harry asks Ron.

“Hm? Oh, it fell out of his robes at the Burrow. I thought it was cool-looking, asked what it was, and he said it was just an old toy of his. Gave it to me for no reason.”

“I don’t think Dumbledore does anything without reason,” Hermione says, flipping a page.

Harry glances at the withered spine of her book, The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard, and turns back towards the fire, touching the Snitch to his lips in thought. He jumps, as the Snitch grows hot. When he looks, there is a new inscription on the opposite side of the ball.

 


I open at the close

 

His heart skips a beat. Is this a message from Malfoy? What does it mean?

He glances at Hermione. Then at Ron. He thinks about the twinkle in Dumbledore’s eye and how he’d given the Snitch to Harry on the very same day he’d given Ron and Hermione their gifts.

No.

He stares at the inscription. It isn’t from Malfoy. Dumbledore is helping him, after all.

 

***

 

Harry is gliding through a dim room. It is lit by a single source of light, a roaring fireplace, which illuminates lush sofas, mahogany tables, books, antiques, and ancient tapestries. No one is making use of the furniture. Two white-blond figures stand before Harry, their heads bowed.

“It is honourable you chose to sacrifice your education to stay home and serve me, Draco,” Voldemort says.

Malfoy nods once. “I am grateful for the opportunity, my Lord.”

“So you’ve expressed. But I must admit...you’ve disappointed me. In your mind, I saw many hours of you speaking with Albus Dumbledore, observing Harry Potter, observing Order meetings, and yet no helpful details were relayed to me. In fact, it often seemed as though you weren’t collecting information as much as simply existing there...even enjoying yourself at times.”

Malfoy meets Harry’s gaze, but immediately looks away. “Acting is one of my strengths. I wanted to seem like a lost boy in need of refuge.”

“So it seemed. So it continues to seem....”

Malfoy’s eyes flash with worry. “I would like to prove my usefulness to you, my Lord. I would like to return to the Order and gather any details you desire—anything to help you on your quest.”

“I am sure you would like to return to the Order, indeed. Much less frightening there, isn’t it?”

“No! No, I hate it there. The filth! The Mudbloods and blood-traitors abound! But I love serving you. I’m honoured! Anything you saw in my head that appeared unsavoury was a farce. Dumbledore required me to be supervised at all times. I had no opportunity to deliver messages to you—”

A white hand goes up. “I have a task for you. I saw in your mind that Albus Dumbledore spoke to you about this task last year.”

“Ah. Yes,” Malfoy says slowly.

“And you ran away from home, afraid to fulfil it?”

“With respect—no, my Lord.” And this Malfoy says firmly. “I ran away because my mother instructed me to. I had no idea what the task was at that time. And I stayed away because I was afraid after she was murdered. Afraid I would be murdered, as well, for her actions. I know it was cowardly, but—”

“Murdered?” Voldemort asks, with the lilt of a smile. “Why, Draco...your mother killed herself.”

“Yes.” Malfoy’s head twitches towards his father ever so slightly, but he does not look. “Slip of the tongue. She killed herself.”

“And why did she kill herself?”

“Because. Because she was a Betrayer. And ashamed of herself.”

The hand goes out, grasps Draco’s nape, which is sticky with sweat. “You are wise for a boy of seventeen. I am reinstating your task. Officially. Aren’t you pleased? I know you will do well. I know you will prove loyal.”

Harry hears the tone, despite the words. It says: You’d better prove loyal.

Lucius opens his mouth, letting out a funny noise before he manages to say, “Certainly, my Lord, I could complete this task for—”

The hand shoots from Draco’s neck to Lucius’ throat. At first, Lucius turns white. Then his neck and face go red, filling with blood.

“I am speaking to your son. This man of duty, as you called him. I do not wish to hear from you. But rest assured, I will hear you scream if he does not succeed. Do you understand?”

Lucius struggles to nod. Voldemort throws him aside. In his weakness, Lucius topples over a table as tall as his knees, knocking over a candleholder, a crystal vase, and several dusty books, following everything to the floor.

“It’s too bad there is no lady of the Malfoy household,” Voldemort drawls, walking away. “Someone to manage the house-elves and keep this place tidier....”

From the corner of his eye, Harry can see Draco’s eyes glazing over, distant and filled with unshed tears. 

 

***

 

Harry wakes up. He has stabbing pain in both his forehead and his belly. That second one is unusual. Perhaps food will help. Eggs are sizzling and the stench of burnt toast hangs in the air. He wanders to the tiny kitchen in the tent. Hermione’s back is turned, but when her face briefly flicks towards him, he notes her eyes are puffy.

Now he remembers. Ron is gone.

Harry is overcome with guilt, thinking of their argument.

"Did you think we’d find a Horcrux everyday?" Harry said. "Did you think you’d be back with Mummy by Christmas? Just leave if you’re so fed up!"

"It’s not just about being fed up! You don’t care about anybody, not even my sister at Hogwarts! Mr Harry I’ve-Faced-Worse Potter doesn’t care about anybody but Malfoy!"

"What! Malfoy?"

"He’s the only one you ever mention being worried about! Must be nice—only having Death Eaters to cry about—when your parents aren’t in harm’s way!"

"My parents are DEAD!"

Harry’s guilt is replaced by anger. Serves Ron right, letting the locket overtake him so, letting his mind fill with nasty, jealous rage. Imagine! The way he looked between Harry and Hermione as if they wanted him gone, as if they wanted to be alone without him.

Harry stops. He curses, just realizing Ron’s mistake. Ron doesn’t know Harry likes boys. Even if he liked girls, Hermione is a sister to him. Damn it, Ron.

Speaking of Hermione, she is slamming breakfast down. They start to eat in silence. The air is so tense that it’s difficult for Harry to swallow his dry toast. He isn’t trying for long before he notices something warm and fluid in his trousers. He inhales slowly, remembering his fucking period. That explains the stabbing feeling in his gut. He looks around, finding there are no napkins or rags or fabrics but their clothes; and they’ve been rationing their toilet paper for too long to waste that. Harry has a feeling Hermione is about to become even more like his sister.

He clears his throat. “Erm.”

She gives him a cold side-eye.

He takes a breath. He has no choice. Plus, he thinks he’s going to have to talk to them about his sexuality soon, anyway. And his sex is not that far off from that subject, so....

“Hermione.”

“What?”

“I need a favour.”

“A favour?” she barely whispers. “You think you deserve a favour after that display last night? Ron could be in trouble or dead out there.”

“I know. I’m worried about him, too. But I still need a favour. I’m not joking.”

“Harry, I’m not joking eith—”

“I need a tampon.”

Hermione drops her fork. She recovers quickly, folding her arms and looking at him pointedly. “I’ve never heard you say that word before, so I’m going to assume you’re serious.”

“I am. And there’s something I’ve got to tell you. But before I do...” God, he can’t even look her in the eye at this point. “...do you have one? Or something with the same function?”

She is stone silent, producing a tampon and watching him retreat to the woods. There is a lot of blood, but he counts himself lucky he never needed that morning-after elixir and vows never to be without a condom again. He casts an underwhelming cleaning charm on his pants and trousers. When the stain doesn’t come out of his pants, he scrubs them in the frigid lake near their campsite and brings them into the tent to dry next to the fire.

Hermione is still waiting with her arms folded.

“It’s a long story,” he sighs.

Twenty minutes later, Harry has relayed the tale told to him by Dumbledore a year ago. Hermione’s face has gone from cold, to perturbed, to concerned, to thoughtful.

“This explains why you’ve always been small for your age,” is all she says.

“Yeah. Look, do you think less of me now?”

“Less?” she asks, and flames flicker in her eyes once more. “Do you mean to say having a vagina makes a person lesser?”

“No! No, it’s not that. It’s just....” Harry sighs, flicking his toast crumbs. “You’re right. That was a bad way to put it. I just mean...does it freak you out...that I’m not what you thought I was?”

“I don’t see you as a different person, Harry. Although, I am cross with Dumbledore for tampering with you so. He didn’t have to make the change last this long.”

“He was worried the initial change may have affected my brain chemistry or my hormones, or something, and wanted to give me my own choice in the end.”

“I wish you would have told me sooner. Not that it matters. But I hate to think about you going through all this alone. And getting your period with no one to talk to about it! Not that I had much better,” she adds with a wry smile. “I had to go to McGonagall, and she shuffled me off with a pamphlet that describes how to transfigure pads from cotton balls and toilet paper.”

“I’ll have to get that spell from you.” They laugh, but it is still tense. Harry searches for a way to break the ice. “Well, I was really glad to get another period, that’s for sure.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Harry is stupid. “Nothing,” he says, unable to think of an excuse. “Just nothing.”

Harry,” she says flatly. Her mouth is parted in disbelief. “Who was it?”

“No one. Please. You don’t want to know, Hermione.”

She looks at something behind him. He turns, sees the Snitch with Malfoy’s inscription on his pillow, and flushes pink.

“I think that answers my question,” she says.

They sit in silence for a long time.

“Now you’ve got to think lesser of me,” Harry says.

“Not lesser. But I’m definitely confused. Of all the men in the world, Harry! Only You-Know-Who himself would be worse.”

“I’d say Snape could give Malfoy a run for his money, but....”

They laugh uncomfortably. Hermione cocks her head in a way he finds all too familiar. “So that’s why he was acting funny around you last year, wasn’t it? And at the Burrow, when he gave you that as a gift...I worked it out as a peace offering in my head, but no. He actually...has feelings for you.”

“Feelings? Malfoy? I don’t know, Hermione, I’m never sure. He definitely feels things, but they’re not feelings, if you know what I mean.”

“Honestly, Harry, spare me,” she laughs. She makes a funny face and repeats, “Yes, spare me. But now I know why he was avoiding Ginny at the Burrow, too.”

Harry’s eyebrows go up. “He was avoiding Ginny?”

“Oh, yes. Remember when he kept disappearing? I found him hiding out behind Mr Weasley’s workshop one day, and he was actually relieved it was me. Can you believe it? He told me Ginny had been really forward with him, and I got the impression he was uncomfortable about it for some reason other than her being, well, a Weasley.”

“Huh.”

Harry is shocked and pleased. He always thought Malfoy was such a hornball that he’d sleep with any girl who presented bosom. At the very least, he thought Malfoy would have jumped at the opportunity with Ginny if only for the sake of throwing it in Ron’s face. Guess not.

Hermione leans forward, putting her chin on her fists. “So, about him liking you. Seems to fit, as strange as it sounds. I mean, have you ever seen Malfoy go to any effort to be that nice?” She nods to the Snitch. “Even when he was dating Pansy back in school, he wasn’t nice to her. He just stuck his arm around her like he owned her, and pretty much ignored her otherwise.”

A lump is forming in Harry’s throat. He misses Malfoy like mad, and the idea of him returning Harry’s warm feelings isn’t helping one bit.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he says quietly.

“Okay.”

Hermione is silent. Harry believes her, that she doesn’t think of him strangely, but there is a queer feeling between them. Perhaps she wants to comfort him? Then he sees how distant her eyes have become.

Harry rounds the table and sits on the bench next to her. “It’s just that, no matter how Malfoy feels about me,” he says carefully. “I think I might have feelings for him. You know? That stinks. And it’s scary not knowing where he is...or how he’s doing.”

Hermione nods, mouth tight.

Harry puts his arm around her. “I’m really sorry about Ron.”

She lets out a shaky breath, leaning into his embrace.

 

***

 

Christmas hits Harry in the heart.

When they visit Godric’s Hollow, he feels quite alone, despite Hermione hugging him in front of his mum and dad’s grave. His best friend is gone, too, and so is Malfoy, and he doesn’t know where Dumbledore is or whether he’s watching over them on their journey. And he’s lonely and scared and Bathilda Bagshot turning out to be a giant snake doesn’t help the matter. Voldemort’s rage is indescribably painful when he and Hermione make their escape, and, not long after, the nightmares start again.

 


***

 

I’m sorry, please!” Malfoy shrieks.

At first, Harry thinks he’s shrieking from pain. But, no. He’s looking at the floor, face taut with horror, as Lucius convulses in front of him.

“Please, my Lord! Dumbledore won’t see me! I’ve tried. You saw—in my memories—Dumbledore told me if I left the care of the Order I’d be hard-pressed to get back in!”

“And what of these stealth techniques Severus has taught you?” Voldemort asks. Harry, as usual, cannot see him, but he senses his eyes are angry red. “What about these acting skills you claim to possess? What good are they if you do not implement them?”

“I’ll talk to Snape—he’ll get me in—”

“Severus has better things to do than to fulfil your task for you! If you wish to give up, say so now. Your punishment will be less severe, the sooner you admit failure. Crucio!

The new incantation lets Lucius relax for a split second, his head touching the floor for the first time, only to make him tense up again, curling in on himself like a dying roach.

Malfoy makes wide, tight grimace. He is trying very hard not to look at Lucius, but his eyes drop, he moans, and looks back to Harry.

“Please, I’ll do it! I swear, I’ll find a way! Just—please—”

Voldemort waves a lazy hand. Lucius withers on the floor, passing out before the image fades. 

 

***

 

Ron has returned.

The necklace is destroyed, but the high of the ordeal passes quickly. Something is pressing on Harry’s mind.

“I hate to bring up Malfoy again,” he says, hoping Ron won’t cringe. He doesn’t. He stares patiently, as they all gather around the fire. “I think he’s really in trouble. You-Know-Who’s been punishing Lucius in my dreams because Malfoy hasn’t completed some task. I think if Malfoy fails, You-Know-Who is going to go mental. Well, even more mental than he already is.”

Ron draws his legs to his chest, nodding. “Cruciatus?”

“For Lucius. I worry it’ll be worse for Draco.”

“The task must be important.”

“It seems to have something to do with Sherbet Lemon, but I don’t know what. Do you think...” Harry looks at The Tale of the Beetle and the Bard, which is open on Hermione’s bunk. “...maybe he wants Malfoy to steal a Hallow?” Ron and Hermione trade a sceptical look, just as Harry’s eye widen. “Or get back one of his Horcruxes?”

“What makes you say that?” Hermione asks.

“Sherbet Lemon’s hand is all black. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s been that way since Malfoy was first supposed to have been assigned this task—over a year ago, I guess—and Sherbet Lemon told me his hand got that way because of Marvolo Gaunt’s ring. If You-Know-Who knows the ring can do that, perhaps he thinks Sherbet Lemon is in possession of it! Perhaps he wants Malfoy to steal it back.”

She shrugs, helpless. “It’s a theory.”

“I know it’s speculative, but what else could he want Malfoy to do that’s so important, that’s also dependent on him finding Sherbet Lemon?”

“He could want Malfoy to kill him,” Ron says.

“There’s no way!” Harry exclaims.

Hermione looks at Ron like he’s just put on a tutu and started to mambo. “How could he expect Malfoy to do that? Sherbet Lemon is the greatest wizard of our time, and Malfoy hasn’t even finished at Hogwarts.”

Ron shrugs, reaching forward to snatch one of the cans of beans warming by the fire. “Even so—shit, that’s hot—it seems like You-Know-Who is intent to punish Lucius for his failures and whatever it is Malfoy’s mum did. So it’s a win-win for him: Sherbet Lemon is dead or he gets to torture Lucius by getting his son killed.”

“But Malfoy seems so adamant about completing the task.” Harry touches his chin. “He doesn’t like Sherbet Lemon, not really. But I think he’d sooner run away than attempt something like that. Wouldn’t he?”

“You know him better than us,” Hermione says. Harry knows she’s trying to be helpful, but he makes a significant face at her and tilts his head towards Ron, who is busy shoveling beans into his mouth.

She puts a hand to her cheek and mouths, Sorry.

Harry hopes Malfoy would sooner run away. He finds himself wishing he’d pushed Malfoy to go to Quebec without him, imagining this adventure would be much less stressful without the extra life hanging over his head. That night, he falls asleep not knowing if the extra life belongs to Malfoy or Dumbledore.

 

***

 

Harry finds out soon enough.

In his sleep, he sees the same antiqued drawing room.

“Dad, we found him!”

There is boom as the drawing room doors fly open. Malfoy charges in, followed by Theodore Nott and Mulciber, the man who had been trying to oust Malfoy as a traitor. There is a frailer figure between them, who shuffles with bare feet, who has his hands bound behind his back, perhaps by magic, and a hood over his head. Malfoy looks his father in the eye, and swipes off the frail man’s hood. Harry wants to be sick. It’s Dumbledore. But it’s not. For Dumbledore is stooping, his beard brushing the floor, dusty and brown, and his eyes are clouded, unfocused on any one thing, or, knowing Dumbledore, all things at once. His pointed cap is gone, leaving only long, thinning white hair. His lips are parted, encrusted, and quivering. He is a shell of the man Harry last saw at the Burrow.

“We found him wandering in the Forest of Dartmoor, muttering to himself,” Malfoy says to Lucius, who is staring at his son, silent, near the fire.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy,” says Mulciber. “I saw him first. I disarmed him.”

“Fine, whatever. Dad, shall we—?” For the first time, Malfoy looks at Harry in an armchair in the shadows. He bows his head. “My Lord!”

Nott and Mulciber follow suit.

“Draco.” Today Voldemort’s voice is intrigued. “What is this?”

“What you asked for, my Lord. It’s Albus Dumbledore. For you.”

Harry doesn’t want to be standing, but he is not in control. In four strides he is before the group of Death Eaters and Dumbledore, who is swaying in place and whispering something incomprehensible. Slowly, two white hands emerge in Harry’s vision. They reach longingly towards Dumbledore’s drooping face, the fingers curling in as if to choke a throat they are not touching. And they don’t touch. They hover. They shake. They drop.

Harry looks at Malfoy so abruptly that Malfoy leans back. “How did you manage this?” he hisses.

“I placed a Taboo on a word I thought he, but no one else, was likely to say—Fawkes. It’s the name of his phoenix.”

“It’s the name of his—?” There is a bark of laughter. The laughter turns chaotic. The others look disturbed. “I wouldn’t have taken your progeny for clever, Lucius!”

The laughter stops, there is a swirls of robes, and the room is filled with a high, gritty shriek: Voldemort’s hand is gripping Dumbledore’s blackened wrist. Dumbledore bleats like an animal as his sleeve is pushed up, as his flesh is wrenched, flaking with charred skin all the way up to his elbow, his armpit, perhaps his neck. The laughter begins again. It is joyous.

“This is the end,” Voldemort says, and Harry is forced to stare into Dumbledore’s watery blue eyes. “Are you in there? Can you hear me? You’ve been bested not even by me, Dumbledore. But by a boy in your own care. A boy! Your judgement has always been questionable.” He squeezes. Dumbledore opens his mouth, but the pain appears so great he has fallen silent. “I will not presume to barter with you. Even though you are not in your right mind, I know you will not give up Potter or the Order. Your only torture will be this—the knowledge that after your death, I will crush Potter and everyone and everything you hold dear.”

Voldemort lets go. Dumbledore’s knees crack on the ground. He makes no other sound.

“Kill him,” Voldemort says, backing away.

If Harry were in control, he’d be screaming. He knows he shouldn’t be scared. At any moment, Dumbledore will shrug this charade, and take Malfoy, and hex the rest, and fly into the night. But he is taking his time.

“I thought,” Malfoy stammers. “I thought you’d want to....”

“You are not pleased? You did so want to prove yourself.”

“I thought I had proven myself—bringing him here—I thought—”

“Draco....”

It is the first intelligible word Dumbledore has said.

Malfoy’s eyes widen, but he is not looking at Dumbledore. He’s looking at Voldemort, still.

“Please...” Dumbledore says. “Please....”

Voldemort laughs. “You beg, old man? You cannot die gracefully? Draco, is what I perceived as honour really a sense of obligation? Do you not wish to dispatch Dumbledore?”

Malfoy throws a look to his father. Lucius is still silent, paying more attention to a tapestry than to the scene before him, and Malfoy seems to understand that no aid with be forthcoming.

“No, my Lord,” he says coldly. “I simply did not wish to presume you would honour me so. Thank you.”

For a moment, the only sound is the echo of Malfoy’s shoes across the wood floor. He stops in front of Dumbledore, takes him by the chin, lifts his face, and stares. Harry does not understand. When will they act? How will escape this? All the while Dumbledore continues to whisper, “Please...please...Draco....”

Malfoy’s face is blank. He places his wand on Dumbledore’s forehead. The blue eyes are clear with fright, but there is something else. Something Harry cannot make sense of. There is no time to guess.

Avada Kedavra!” Malfoy says.

 

***

 

Harry wakes up screaming. It is not normal screaming. It is prolonged, a scream of the soul. He feels heavy with grief. He cannot move from his bunk, can barely open his eyes, as the emotions are so strong they seem to weigh down his bones. Ron and Hermione are suddenly there with cool rags on his scar and shushing words of comfort. It takes all of Harry’s might to look at them.

“Dumble...” he starts, and then remembers the Taboo. “He’s....”

“We know,” Hermione says. She puts a hand over her mouth. Her eyes are pink.

Ron’s are, too. “It’s been on Potterwatch all day.”

“It’s true, then? It wasn’t a dream?” Their silence confirms it. “How long have I been sleeping?”

“About a day and a half, mate. We didn’t know what was wrong with you. You just kept screaming every few minutes, clearly having nightmares. You seemed like you were in pain, too. Is it your scar?”

“No, I hurt all over. My skin feels on fire. My bones ache like they’re being pulled on. My head....”

Harry wants to hold his head. It’s so heavy, so much pressure. But he can’t. He’s too fatigued to blink, much less lift his arms.

“You think it’s a curse?” Ron mutters to Hermione.

“I couldn’t say.” She is staring hard at Harry.

The wireless makes a fuzzy noise, perhaps a voice trying to break through. Ron bounds over, picks it up, and begins shaking it, like it might change its mind and take back the horrible news if he’s brutish enough.

What the Hell is going on? Harry thinks. He takes a breath, and heaves a hand off the bed to examine it. Besides the limb feeling like lead, there tightness in his tendons, making the movement itself difficult. Nothing seems injured, but the skin is taut across his hand and arm, not as if it is swollen but as if the skin is a suit stretched over too large a person.

“Harry,” Hermione says gently. She puts a hand on his wrist, but jerks away when he flinches. “Harry, Sherbet Lemon is gone. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Of course, I do.” Harry’s voice cracks. Why does she feel the need to repeat this information?

Hermione’s eyes are boring into his, almost pushing on his mind as much as the relentless pain. She flicks her eyes downwards...to his chest...to his groin...and Harry gasps....

His limbs hurt because they are stretching. His stomach is twisting because it is turning itself inside out. It’s hard to breath because his breasts are flattening. His voice has cracked, not from sorrow, but because it is deepening. Hair is erupting from his face, his legs, even a small amount on his chest, and that’s why his skin is sensitive to the touch. He puts a hand under the covers, tentatively, somehow more fearful than he’s ever been of anything, which is really something at this point in his life, and slips it into his pyjamas to feel between his legs. There is no longer moisture, no longer a slit. There is a mound of flesh, not like Malfoy’s, long and proud, but something more contained; it is like his vagina has sealed and a nub had emerged, the shortened head of a penis. It hurts to touch. There are no balls, not yet, he assumes. There is just something. Something growing.

The spell will break when the caster does.

He closes his eyes. He wants to refuse. Not yet. Not yet. He wants to cry, but cannot make tears.

“Hey, hey, mate.” Ron is back with a glass of water. He tries to give it to Harry, but when Harry doesn’t budge his expression grows pitying. “Look, I think he knew this was coming. When I was at Shell Cottage, Bill told me Sherbet Lemon’s been giving members of the Order all his important belongings. Maybe he didn’t know You-Know-Who was going to kill him, but he’s been sick, apparently. He was going to go, anyway. Do you understand? He was making arrangements, so I’m sure there’s a plan in order.”

Harry nods, but he is not comforted. “Can you pull me up?”

They hoist him up, and he drinks water, and leans heavily on Ron’s shoulder with his opposite hand in Hermione’s. Suddenly, he clenches her hand so hard that she cries out. It hurts him too, but he doesn’t care.

“What is it?” she asks.

Malfoy!

“Is he hurt?”

“He did it! He killed him!”

Silence.

“No,” Ron says. “Harry, are you sure?”

Of course he’s sure!

“FUCK!” he shouts. He gasps for air. The took a lot out of him.

“Calm down,” Hermione says, looking at Ron with fright. She reaches for the damp rag. “Harry, you’re too ill for this. Ron, this rag is warm now. Can you run and dip it in the river?” When he leaves, Hermione says gently, “Harry, what did you see?”

“Draco did it, Hermione,” he says tremblingly. He wants so badly to cry, to release the tension in his chest, in his heart. “Dumble—Sherbet Lemon was begging for his life, and Draco killed him. I never thought he was that cold, to want to save his neck so much that he’d....”

“Was You-Know-Who there? Did it seem like he had a choice?”

“He had a choice whether to bring him to Malfoy Manor to begin with! Malfoy may be shit at spying, but he’s competent at spellwork and wandless magic. He could have tried, Hermione—he could have made an attempt to get Dumbledore away!” Harry falls back onto the bed, screwing up his whole face. “To think, I was worried he wouldn’t want me anymore if I became fully male. Now I’m becoming male, and I swear, if I ever see him again, I’ll curse him gutless.”

“Just calm down, all right? You need to rest right now.”

Ron returns with the rag and presses it to Harry’s head. It’s strange, having Ron nurse him while Hermione sits nearby, brooding. He appreciates it, but is too weak, angry, and heartbroken to say thank you.

 

***

 

“Blimey, Harry. Seems like you’ve had a two-day growth spurt.”

Harry forces a smile for Ron, and continues shoving his belongings into Hermione’s tiny bag. It’s true, he’s grown. Two bedridden days have left him two inches taller. He doesn’t rival Ron, but he’s taller than Hermione for the first time ever. His shoulders are slightly wider, too, and he thinks his stomach is flatter and he’s losing body fat, but he can’t be sure. Perhaps it’s just their sporadic diet on the road. Occasional chicken eggs and mouldy bread don’t give growing teenagers much to work with.

As the weeks wear on, he knows for certain it’s not the diet. Harry has never been fleshy by any means, but he’s been soft to the touch. Malfoy had sometimes commented on how nice it was to grab Harry’s thighs when they fucked missionary, not that he is thinking about Malfoy—treacherous, cowardly prick. He’s starting to feel ropey and toned as the fat melts away, and he wonders if he’s putting on muscle or just noticing what was already there, underneath. It’s really not as nice as it sounds. It’s foreign. He feels self-conscious.

The first time Harry shaves, he nicks his face three times, and that’s only on the first cheek. He peers into the mirror Hermione conjured from a sheet of ice, broken off a pond’s edge, turning his face side to side, and wonders if he should bother with the other half.

Ron is giggling. “You’ve really never shaved before today?”

“Shut it!”

Harry grabs the razor and storms off to finish in the privacy of the woods. He’s only got a bit of facial hair, but he decides it’s patchy and weird and needs to go. Serves him right for asking for Ron’s advice, anyway. Puberty with Hermione was so much easier!

They make new campsites more and more frequently, and while Harry and Ron are gathering wood, Harry decides that walking is really strange when you’re a boy—especially now that Spring is nearing and the days are growing warm. Why? Because apparently ball skin sticks to your leg. He finds himself stopping to lift his leg, as if he’s a dog stopping for a piss, every few moments. Ron keeps looking at him funny. Hermione returns with water, frowning in confusion. When Harry confides in her that evening, she folds in her lips, as if to hold back a smile, and transfigures his boxers into briefs.

“Hey,” he says, delighted. He hops up and down. Nothing even flops. “How did you know to do that?”

“Seemed logical.” Her cheeks are pink, suddenly. “And maybe I’m not as bookish as you think.”

Harry thinks about Viktor Krum and how she and Ron are spending more time laughing and horse-playing, and decides he doesn’t want to know what that means.

It’s strange. Once his balls are fully in, his penis thickens slightly and elongates. He doesn’t like it, not one bit. His headaches subside; he’s left with a brow with a slight ridge, and while his jaw is the same, tapering in like the bottom of a heart, the line between his jaw and throat is more defined. His Adam’s apple is, too. And then there’s the hair. What was at first sparse is now evenly distributed across the entirety of his lower cheeks, and his mouth and chin region, and his upper neck. When he shaves, there’s the faintest dark shadow leftover, and he feels for the first time in his life that the people who say he looks like James Potter may be onto something. He feels lanky, but spritely. He can hop higher. He can grapple with Ron and sometimes win. He can pick up logs faster, throw them into the tent, and have enough energy left to race Hermione down to the stream and haul both their buckets back up. He could use magic for this task, and yet he’s compelled to expend energy, to stretch and bend and flex and run. Hermione smiles at him and he smiles at her, and she doesn’t seem just proud of him for overcoming what first manifested as an inconvenience and a sickness; she seems happy for him. Like she’s seeing Harry for the first time. Harry doesn’t know if that’s correct. He thinks Harry with girl bits was Harry. He misses that Harry. But he thinks someday, if he’s very, very patient, this man could be Harry, too.

One day, the day before they go to Hogsmeade and meet with Aberforth and reunite with Neville and the rest of Dumbledore’s Army, Ron turns to him.

“Mate, I gotta say, you’re looking—” He glances down and back up. “You’re looking smart these days.”

“Oh. Thanks,” Harry murmurs. His face feels hot, because doesn’t feel smart. He feels oafish, like he has too many limbs. They’re always in the way, smacking things over and prodding people, so he mostly just keeps his hands in his pockets. And the amount of muscle he’s put on—not much, mostly in his shoulders and butt and calves—is confusing to him. He’s unaware of his own strength now, so he’s always grabbing things too hard. Once he squashed a banana before he managed to peel the slippery thing open. And yesterday, when he shoved Ron playfully, he accidently sent him into a lake. He doesn’t know if this is what it’s like being a boy, or if these are just the effects of abrupt changes, both physiological and hormonal. And speaking of hormones, every so often Harry gets a spot. A spot. He never used to get spots! And don’t get him started on boners. When he gets a boner, which is all the time for no reason at all, it’s so protruding, cumbersome, and distracting in it’s embarrassing mass he simply wants to flip over a chair!

“Harry!” says Hermione.

Oops, accident. He picks up the chair.

Harry doesn’t know this person. He has a hard time calling this person himself. Perhaps he doesn’t have the patience to be a man, after all.

Man or no man, he’s got to be Harry Potter. A couple days later, the battle begins.

 

***

 

People are dead. Not just evil people but good people. Harry doesn’t know all the names—Fred Weasley is one, and Lupin, and Tonks—but he can’t stop to wonder or mourn.

He is tearing away from an uneventful hour in the Room of Hidden Things, clutching his Invisibility Cloak, having left Ron and Hermione to destroy Ravenclaw’s diadem, when he hears hurried voices around the corner. He’s supposed to be looking for Voldemort’s ruddy snake, but he is stricken still when a voice he recognizes speaks a name he hasn’t heard aloud in a long time.

“Obviously our Lord doesn’t need to kill the Malfoy boy,” Snape is saying. “It is Mulciber he has to do away with.”

“But the boy murdered Dumbledore,” comes a shaky voice Harry doesn’t know, “so shouldn’t he be the Master of the Wand, or whatever you call it—?”

“Malfoy killed Dumbledore, but Mulciber disarmed him in the forest. I don’t know how to make it clearer to you, Avery.”

“It’s just...Mulciber is my lifelong friend...how can I just stand around and watch him—?”

“Spare me,” Snape says coldly. “He is mine, too. But we are in the middle of a war, which we cannot expect to survive if we question the Dark Lord. We are meeting in the forest. Tell Mulciber nothing. Come along when you’ve pulled yourself together.”

Snape walks around the corner faster than Harry thought he would. He stops in his tracks, black eyes narrowing. There is no time to speak. Footsteps are echoing behind Snape, and in a swift hand-motion, he sends Harry flying into the wall, covered by the Invisibility Cloak. “The Forbidden Forest,” Snape says pointedly, just as Avery emerges behind him.

“I heard you the first time.”

The men walk out of the castle, leaving Harry to slide down the wall, his mind swirling with memories. He sees Dumbledore’s frightened eyes again, Malfoy’s wand tapping him on the forehead, hears the emotionless spell, and feels himself seethe with fresh anger.

He runs for the forest.

It’s like the universe is trying to rip Harry’s heart into pieces. When he’s nearly to the treeline, winded from sprinting invisibly through small battles, he sees Malfoy. Both Malfoys. They are seemingly in combat with Theodore Nott and an older Slytherin, Adrian Pucey. They are throwing rapid curses in unison towards the Malfoys, and, on second look, Harry realizes that only Draco is retaliating, gritting his teeth trying to protect both himself and his father, who sways on his feet, droopy-eyed and complacent. Harry goes frozen in front of the scene.

“Did you do it or didn’t you, Draco?” Nott is shouting. “Confringo!”

Malfoy waves his hand, and blocks. “I may have been speaking with Shacklebolt, but that doesn't mean—”

“I knew it! I never bought that you were a spy! You can kill Dumbledore, or any Order member, Malfoy, but it doesn’t mean you’re true to our cause! You Malfoys are only true to yourselves!”

Nott throws another curse, which hits Lucius square in the face, knocking him over and pushing him through the gravel to lay prone.

“Dad!” Malfoy shouts. Lucius groans and sits up. Malfoy blocks two more curses, one from each Slytherin, all the while looking over his shoulder. “Dad, get up and help me!”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lucius says. His voice is distant, almost like the hollow, ghostly voice of Professor Binns. He’s not even looking at the conflict. “Run for the forest. Forget me.”

“I WON’T DO THAT. Protego!” Malfoy deflects a fire-curse headed straight for his father’s head. He continues to block, creating force fields with his wand and, with his bare left hand, slapping back hexes and sending them soaring across the battlefield. “Come on, Dad! I need your help. I can’t do this alone!”

“Just go, son. Just protect yourself, and go. You’ll be better off....”

“NO!” Malfoy shrieks. “I won’t lose you both! Corporolingua!

The spell hits Nott in the chest. He heaves. His tongue rolls out of his mouth and hits the ground, slimy, thick, at least four feet long. He scrambles to gather it back up, slobbering everywhere. While Pucey is distracted, Malfoy pushes both hands forward, lifting Pucey bodily and throwing him across the battlefield, out of sight. Harry lets out a long breath, pleased he will not need to reveal himself—that is, until Draco yelps. He’s ascending into the sky, arms and legs flailing, looking around for the source of the spell.

Mulciber is marching towards them. He is spattered with blood and there is a fine layer of powdered stone up his arm, to his wand, which is pointed up at Draco.

“I heard what you said, boy! I knew it. Our Lord wouldn’t believe me, but now I have proof.” He stops close to Nott, who trying to cast finite on himself, but can’t manage the words. “Now the question is—do I kill you now? Or wait until after the battle and let our Lord do it?”

“Please,” Draco stammers, still kicking. “You don’t understand. I was just...asking Shacklebolt where Potter was...he still thinks I’m an Order member. I could have brought Potter to our Lord....”

Mulciber barks with laughter. “You only seem to take that initiative when you’re in trouble. I won’t be fooled. In fact, I don’t think I’ll give you the opportunity to fool anyone else. The Dark Lord will look into our minds and see the truth later, you little menace. Finite.”

Malfoy thuds on the ground. His wand bounces away. He crab-walks backwards, reaching for it, watching as Mulciber approaches him with a sinister stride.

Harry knows how this will end if he doesn’t step in. He doesn’t hesitate. He flings off the cloak, points his wand, and shouts, “Oy, Mulciber!”

All four men look up. Nott is scrambling to detangle his wand from his tongue. Mulciber’s eyes are wide with shock. He comes to his senses, pointing his wand at Harry, but it’s too late.

Expelliarmus!” Harry cries. Mulciber’s bloodied wand, what Harry now knows is the Elder Wand, flies right into his hand. “Thanks. I needed this.”

Mulciber shouts with terror and runs for the treeline, not before stopping to grab Lucius Malfoy’s wand from his limp hand. Nott trips after him.

There is nothing else to do. Harry makes for the forest.

“Potter!”

Harry doesn’t look. Cannot.

“Potter, wait!” Malfoy overtakes him. He grabs Harry, flips him around, breathing so hard it sounds like moaning. He’s touching Harry’s face. “Are you—?”

“NO,” Harry says, stumbling backwards. “I saw what you did! I saw you kill Dumbledore!”

“What? No. Please, listen—”

“No, I don’t care why you did it! I don’t care if you were under threat. You could have run! You could have fought back! But you didn’t, you had to save your own neck first! They were right about you. You only care about yourself. I might have more respect for you if you were actually a Death Eater. At least, you’d have principals then!”

Malfoy is silent, his face blank. Harry is heaving. He’s sure he must look savage, but he doesn’t care. Malfoy deserves nothing better.

“Get lost,” Harry says coldly, backing away. “You’ll be dead if you don’t.”

When he’s in the darkness of the forest, close to the murmurs of Death Eaters, he stops to dig the Golden Snitch out of his pocket. I open at the close. Harry knows what this means now. He can feel the grooves of Malfoy’s inscription on the back. He runs his forefinger over the letters that spell Hogwarts’ Finest Seeker, feeling a fire ignite in his gut, shooting up to his chest, surrounding his heart.

It’s a good thing he’s about to die. He won’t have feel this pain any more.

 

***

 

Harry opens his eyes.

Dumbledore is there.

“Where am I? What happened?” Harry turns in a circle. It’s King’s Cross, but on a cloud.

Dumbledore’s hands are folded over his neat, purple robes. He is the man Harry once knew, not charred, or weak, or confused, just serene. “What do you recall?” he asks.

Harry’s brow furrows. “I knew I was going to die. I opened the Snitch and spoke to my parents, and Sirius, and Lupin. Then I went to Voldemort, and he killed Mulciber and then he killed me.”

“Hm,” Dumbledore says, smiling for a long time. Harry thinks Malfoy has a point about this man being infuriating as fuck.

Finally, Dumbledore explains things. Things about himself, and Snape, and Hallows, and love, and death, and Harry is almost more confused now than when he materialized on this cloud. He wants to know more. He wants to know about—

“Malfoy,” he chokes. Dumbledore’s eyes well with sympathy. “He—”

“He did what I asked him to do.”

“What?” Harry shakes his head. “No, you begged him not to kill you. You pleaded—”

“I was begging him to be brave, Harry. I know it’s hard to understand. But Marvolo Gaunt’s ring...” Dumbledore lifts his hand, which is now perfectly flesh-coloured and ringless, but he turns it side to side just the same. “The ring took it’s toll. The curse spread over my body and into my mind, and I had only days to survive after the Death Eaters took me to Malfoy Manor. Long before that day, Draco managed to contact me. He told me his plight. I told him mine. And I asked him to kill me, to bring me in front of Voldemort and kill me, so that he might have a chance to save himself and his father.”

“He wasn’t saving himself at your expense?” Harry asks softly.

“No. In fact, I am sure he would have sacrificed himself for my safety, if I had not instructed him otherwise. Look what he did for his father on the battlefield. Draco is not heartless. He is afraid, but he is not heartless.”

Harry relaxes. The fire surrounding his heart has extinguished. He says, “I changed. When you died, I changed. I’m all boy now.”

Dumbledore nods, his expression unreadable. “I had a hunch it would happen swiftly.”

“I wish you would have told me you knew you were going to die.”

“Would you have made the decision to become female if I had not?”

Harry shuts his eyes tightly. “I don’t know! But once again, I didn’t have a choice. Shit was just happening to me.”

“I am sorry, Harry. I did not wish to burden you with my growing sickness. I wanted you to feel protected.”

“I’m so angry at you for keeping me in the dark. Always in the dark!” He sighs, slumps. “And I miss you,” he says weakly.

Dumbledore places a large hand on his shoulder. “How are you doing with the change?”

“It’s hard. My body is foreign to me, and it doesn’t always seem to match my mind.”

“But it never does. It doesn’t have to. Your mind and spirit make you who you are, Harry. Your body is merely an afterthought of nature’s, a vessel for you to show that spirit to the world.”

“But I still like...” Harry looks anywhere but Dumbledore, which pretty much restricts him to clouds. “Boys,” he whispers. “How can that be, if I’m a boy, too?”

“As I’ve told you in the past, that preference doesn’t always have to do with your gender.” When Harry looks up, Dumbledore has a tiny smile on his face. He seems to be thinking of something specific, but Harry cannot decipher what. At last he says, “I imagine, Harry, you will master your new body just like you seem to master every other challenge you face.”

“I hope so.”

“And I hope...” he says slowly, growing serious, “...that you will forgive Mr Malfoy in time.”

“I already have. If he killed you to spare you, at your request, then that’s different.”

Dumbledore’s eyes are dark. Harry can’t help but wonder if he’s misinterpreted something.

But Dumbledore, as usual, does not elaborate. He extends both arms grandly. “And now you have another choice to make. The choice between life and death.”

It is not a difficult choice. Not when Harry thinks of the family who sacrificed for him, and Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys, the Order, all the students of Hogwarts, and certainly, excitedly, of Draco Malfoy.

He nods to Dumbledore, and no other words are needed.

 

***

 

It’s all over.

Harry is walking out of Dumbledore’s office, headed for the Great Hall. Ron and Hermione have gone ahead, as Harry is lost in thought. He’s thinking of the pair of hands that were touching his face just an hour ago, as he lay inhaling the dirt of the forest floor; they were hands which belonged to someone who seemed to care very much about the safety of a boy Harry himself had not stopped thinking about the entire Battle.

Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?" she whispered.

Yes,” Harry said back, as quietly as he could manage.

He knows it’s stupid, because he specifically heard Voldemort ask a Death Eater to check if Harry were dead—but, at the time, he wondered, for the briefest moment, if that worried voice belonged to Draco’s mother.

People are stopping to pat him on the back, hug him, cry on him, shake his hand and give him thanks, and he tries to be gracious. He tries to comfort the grieving, especially the Weasleys. Even Snape stops Harry in the entrance hall, before he’s taken away by Aurors for questioning, and looks him in the eye for a long moment. Harry smiles, Snape nods back, and then he submits to the Auror’s grabby hands. Harry knows he will be fine. He’ll vouch if he has to.

There are people resting in the Great Hall, house-elves passing out water and food, and mediwizards treating minor injuries. The Slytherin side is empty except for four men dressed respectively in white robes and black robes. The two in black robes are the Malfoys. The two in white robes are mediwizards, who hover over Lucius, inspecting his dazed eyes and the many cuts on the side of his face, where Nott’s curse dragged him through the gravel. Draco stands to one side with his arms folded. He looks uncomfortable in the Hall, eyes flitting, mouth thin and white like a knife’s edge. He notices Harry, and stands erect.

Harry inclines his head towards the doors.

Malfoy responds immediately. He doesn’t take his eyes off Harry’s, first walking, then jogging straight towards him, his hair moving up and down, his eyes alight. Harry wonders: will Malfoy touch him? Hug him? Sweep him up? Kiss him?

It’s none of the above.

An Auror grabs Malfoy by the elbow. “Hold on, there. You can’t leave until we question you. You may need to come to the Ministry overnight.”

“Unhand me! I didn’t do anything!”

Let him go,” Harry says. Both the Auror and Malfoy look at him; his voice was much deeper and firmer than he’s ever heard it. “It’s fine. I want to have a word with him first.”

The Auror makes an annoyed face. “You don’t have any say in what we—”

“Let him go,” comes a much deeper voice than Harry’s. It’s Shacklebolt, who comes up behind Malfoy and places a hand on his shoulder. “In fact, no need to question him at all. I’ve already done it. He’s clear.”

“Now, wait just a second! You may be vying for temporary Minister for Magic, but that doesn’t mean—”

While the Auror and Shacklebolt are rowing, Harry and Malfoy make their escape, ending up on the grounds in an alcove near the greenhouses, where Harry first showed Malfoy the bandages that squashed his breasts flat and Malfoy first blackmailed him like the arse he was. That was a year and a half ago, but it feels like a lifetime.

“I found out what happened,” Harry says quickly. “With Dumbledore. And you. I’m so sorry for what I said.”

He braces himself, expecting Malfoy to take the opportunity to scorn him. He thinks Malfoy cares for him, thinks he does, but he also knows Malfoy is prideful. When Malfoy’s cheek twitches, and he steps forward and grabs Harry around the middle, pulling him into a fierce hug, Harry melts in relief. It seems Malfoy’s affection for him finally outweighs his pride. They stare at each other for a long moment, Malfoy’s hand drawing warm circles on his back.

“Though, I do have a question,” Harry says. “If Voldemort read your mind and saw everything you did, he must have saw us having sex. How could he take that for spying? And why doesn’t the whole world know Dumbledore magicked me a vagina?”

Malfoy snorts. “I do know some Occlumency, Potter. But not enough. I had to put all my efforts into hiding just one or two things—and I thought that our intimate relations were a very important thing to hide.”

“Oh. Right.”

Malfoy touches Harry’s chin, lifts it. “Are you okay? After everything?”

“As well as anyone could be after dying. You?”

“Yeah. Though, my dad isn’t doing well. Perhaps he’ll improve now that...now that Voldemort’s gone.” He gives the tiniest shiver, like it’s his first time saying the name.

“I saw how he was acting. What’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know. Loads of things. He was tortured a fair amount, plus...I think staying at the manor without mum really got to him after a while. Got to me, too, but not like that. It seems like he realized she was really gone, and that he played a big a part in her death.”

“I’m sorry.”

Malfoy shrugs. It’s not an indifferent gesture. It’s like he’s shrugging away the painful feelings, trying very hard to remain upbeat. He puts both hands on Harry’s cheeks, looking at him like something shining and beautiful, like he used to, down in the dungeons when things were carefree....

“You need a wash,” he says, almost dotingly. “There’s so much dirt on you, I can barely see your face.”

Now Harry is the one to snort. “How’d you know it was me, then?”

“You have an air about you, Potter.” He smiles, all teeth. The feelings that grow within Harry are familiar, and lovely, and make it hard to breathe. Malfoy leans close and says, “Plus, there’s something about those eyes of yours....”

They kiss, and it’s the best sort of magic Harry’s felt all day.

Malfoy walks him into the wall of the alcove, one hand in his long, unkempt hair, and the other pinning Harry’s wrist to the stone. Harry sighs as Malfoy kisses his neck. He still smells of pine. He still growls and whispers and makes Harry’s legs part. He still presses close, his hips urgent, his hand trailing down to Harry’s waist, pulling him flush, his erection unabashed against Harry’s thigh. He still—

Malfoy jumps back.

He stares.

Harry realizes he has an erection of his own. He forgot he could do that.

It’s a while before Malfoy speaks.

“So, you did it, then.”

“I didn’t do it,” Harry says slowly, still against the wall. “It happened. When Dumbledore died.”

He doesn’t say ‘when you killed Dumbledore.’

But Malfoy still looks perturbed with Harry’s words, like he’s the one who caused Harry to have an erection. Which, Harry supposes, is true at this very moment, but that’s not that way Malfoy is thinking about it. His forehead is wrinkling, his mouth is turning upside down, and he is looking at Harry almost warily.

“It’s okay,” Harry says, reaching out, “because I’m still the same—”

Malfoy jerks away. It’s like a knife to Harry’s gut.

He drops his hand, shocked.

“Look, it’s not that I...” Malfoy trails off, looks at Harry’s groin, and then away. “I am happy you’re coping well. But...” He runs his fingers shakily through his hair. He clears his throat once, twice, and then says, “Well, it’s good you’re okay. See you around.”

Harry gapes as Malfoy starts back towards the Hall.

“Draco,” he croaks. He runs. He grabs Malfoy by the shoulders, cutting off his path. “Draco! You told me it didn’t matter. That you liked me for me, not...” He gestures wildly, hoping Malfoy will understand.

He looks past Harry’s head, out at the rubbish-covered battlefield. “I did. I do. But this isn’t the same you, is it?”

“It is, though.” He tries to think of how Dumbledore put it—something about spirits being more important than bodies, but he can see that the anguished squint in Malfoy’s eyes is not because of the glaring afternoon sunlight. It is because Malfoy doesn’t feel same. To Malfoy, bodies matter.

“Good luck with things, Potter,” he says, and walks away.

He just walks away.

 

***

 

September 1st brings many changes.

For one, it’s cold now. For two, Harry’s in “eighth year,” which sounds really weird. For three, everyone keeps calling him the Man Who Saved the World, and for once he thinks the title fits, but he’d never say so out loud. How embarrassing. And, honestly, he’s glad the Boy Who Lived thing has subsided because secretly he thinks the Boy Who Lived died with the Girl Who Lived, and he’s finally getting used to being a man and appreciates that the new title reflects that. Lastly, September 1st is different because it’s the first time he walks into the Great Hall, sits at Gryffindor table, looks across a sea of heads to the Slytherins, and does not see Draco Malfoy among them.

It’s been four months, and their break up still leaves him hollow.

“Harry, shepherd’s pie,” Hermione says, handing him the shepherd's pie. He doesn’t want any, so he sticks it back in the air and floats it down to Neville. “You should eat something,” she admonishes.

“Not hungry.”

Ron laughs, serving himself candied carrots. “Couldn’t stop eating all our rations on the road last winter, and now that we’re here in all this abundance, you’re not hungry?”

“I’m sure I will be in the morning.”

Hermione gives him a look, opens her mouth to speak, but Ginny cries out first.

“Oh, look, Charlie’s finally here!”

They look up. Charlie Weasley is edging into the Hall from the small entrance behind the head table with a well-worn rucksack strapped to his shoulder. He slides in next to Hagrid, grinning, and starts serving himself without an introduction.

“Always late, that one,” Ron says. “Glad he’s going to be helping out Hagrid, though.”

Hagrid sustained a leg injury during the battle, and while he is able to walk, he grows tired easily. Harry helped him plant his new garden this summer, and is pleased he’ll have an extra set of hands for grounds maintenance and animal care.

“Yeah, mum’ll kill him for not cutting his hair for the first day of school, though,” Ginny says, turning back to dinner.

“I think it looks good long,” Harry finds himself saying again. And, as if his voice has carried across the whole Hall, Charlie looks up and winks.

Harry’s stomach flips.

“Harry,” Hermione says quietly. “Are you are okay? You were looking pale and now you’re looking flushed.”

“Hermione, stop, I’m fine.”

“All right, but...” She looks towards Slytherin, and then back at him. “I just want to make sure you’re doing all right. With, you know, everything.”

“Give the man a break, ‘Mione,” Ron chimes in, stabbing a pork chop off a platter. “He’s a tough one. It just stinks to be back in school, doesn’t it, Harry?”

Harry nods his thanks.

That night, as he’s dressing for bed, he digs in his trouser pocket and pulls out the Snitch. He swears the engraving might be wearing down from all the time he’s spent running his thumb over the words Harry Potter: Hogwarts’ Finest Seeker. He’s doing it now, wondering if he’ll have to make the whole thing smooth before Malfoy leaves his mind for good.

“Oy!” says Seamus from across the dorm. “First time I’ve seen Potter get dressed out in the open. Must be all that saving the world! What is it? Does your knob grow an inch every time you defeat a Dark Lord? Got to give that a try.”

He and Dean cackle, while Ron and Neville shake their heads and smile. Harry would love to see the look on Finnegan’s face if he knew the truth, if any of them knew the truth, but he knows he’ll never tell. Look where it got him with Malfoy. Although he realizes that’s different.

It isn’t till he’s half asleep that Harry realizes something.

Charlie has always winked at him, even knowing Harry is a man. Or, at least, thinking Harry is a man. It is an unabashed wink of affection, perhaps flirtation, and Charlie doesn't care. He doesn’t care. And that’s a good thing. Isn’t it? It’s mature, at least. And exactly what a world hero should want in a man—perhaps deserves in a man. And that’s really exciting. And not at all confusing, not like Draco Malfoy.

Harry’s heart is thumping like a drum as he takes the Snitch from under his pillow, looks at the engraving one last time, and drops it in the bottom of his trunk.

  

 

The End