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In inceptum finis est

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Harry steps off the train and onto the platform; crisp autumn air surrounding him, pressing a light kiss to his cheek. It’s soft and sweet, like cinnamon apples and syrup - youthful, new, yet so familiar that he has no choice but to succumb to the place he’d abandoned nearly a decade ago. A gust of wind nudges him along; the slightest tingle settles against his nape, whispering — ‘welcome home.’

He strolls beneath the mud-caked earth, his eyes deviating from the path every so often. Blanketed under a plum-tinged sky, a vast stretch of trees surrounds him; the echo of Bellatrix’s shrill laughter bounces off the tree trunks. He remembers stalking down this path ten years ago, tripping over his feet every so often in a rage, in pursuit of Snape, a fire as green as the Avada Kedavra curse gleaming in his eyes as he screamed. He watches Draco stumble a few feet ahead, looking terrified and cadaverous.

A shiver runs through him as he squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t know why, after all this time, he’s returned.

As the castle appears in the distance, Harry can’t help but gape. The rubble he’d been buried under has been cleared. Defenders line either side of the bridge to the entrance once again, giving the illusion of safety. Harry nurses his bottom lip with his teeth; a puzzled look etched on his face.

“If you want it to open, you have to touch it,” a voice echoes from behind him.

Harry stills. The only warmth he feels is his magic flowing through his veins.

He lifts his hand to the entrance, curling his palm around a black, iron rod. The fit is perfect like this establishment was made for him. His home, anchored deep within the earth.

As the gate opens, wind gashes his cheeks: a sharp sting reminiscent of the Dark Lord’s nails digs into his skin, the abyss threatening to swallow them both whole. He shivers as he steps through.

The soles of oxfords clicking against the cobblestone walkway echoes in the corridor of the castle. Once again, Harry is being followed. He swallows, his mouth suddenly dry. The shadow hovers over his shoulder before sliding into step with him. He chances a look out of the corner of his eye.

Harry’s breath catches in his throat. The sharp angles and harsh lines that once shaped Draco’s face have smoothed. He’s grown into himself, towering over Harry by a few inches. Though if Harry studies him, he’s certain that he can still see the thin, pale boy whose mere presence taunted his youthful mind. His hair, once stark white with a hint of gold, has darkened, mirroring the first breath of the sun as it rises, still translucent with hints of deep golds and the subtle kiss of caramel. He looks as if he’s been resurrected—as if he lives, again.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” Harry whispers, falling into step with Draco.

Draco chuckles, though the sound is devoid of any emotion. “No one is more surprised than I, Potter.”

Harry smiles briefly, gazing down at his shoes. His world tilts, and once again, he’s all of seventeen. He hasn’t even noticed they’ve stopped walking.

A soft glow of light brings the Great Hall to life. Vintage bulb string lights hang from the rafters, their rows stretching the length of the room. The canopied opening above them is spelled to resemble a starry night sky — ribbons of deep navy and plum tangled together amidst a bed of soft clouds. The sparkle from the stars reflect in Harry’s glasses. It’s like seeing Hogwarts for the first time, being seduced by its romanticism, wrapped in the warm promises of safety that echoed off the castle walls, before it settled in the invisible chains clasped around his wrists.

“It’s still something, isn’t it?”

Draco stands beside Harry. He swallows thickly, raking a hand through his hair before he speaks.

“Something, indeed.”

They go their separate ways. Suddenly, it’s much too cold.

The slight sense of familiarity that Harry feels vanishes as soon as he takes his place at the Gryffindor table. The wood is refinished, but Harry can trace circles on the table where blood dripped from his nose in sixth year, slithered between his lips and hung suspended against his chin. He can see the ash particles scattering about in the air as he wipes his palm across his face before beginning their descent into the cracks in the table, the cries of the ones left behind, ringing in his ears, forever immortalized.

The windows, once a symbol of possibility — the beauty of the earth reflects in them as the sun rises and sets each day — now reflects the two empty seats at the staff table, dim lights of remembrance that will never be enough. The atonements for his survival. If he stills himself long enough, he’s certain he can feel the windows vibrating, their soft clink mimicking the tears he wishes he still had in him.

He clenches his fists and closes his eyes. The Hall buzzes with life around him, pieces of conversations settle against the fabric of his shirt, latch onto his nape, words puddle at his feet. He’s surrounded, but he aches to be alone.

Slowly, he pushes himself from the table and begins his descent from the castle. By the time Draco chances a look over, Harry has vanished.

His chest heaves as he strides out onto the grass blanketing Hogwarts, his heavy footsteps crushing dying blades, their sigh muffled by the soles of his trainers. He keeps walking until he reaches the clearing, buried deep within the Forbidden Forest. He closes his eyes and exhales. His lower lip begins to tremble. He can feel the Dark Lord’s hands around his throat. And yet— he traces every inch of the forest floor with his steps, his pounding heart rattling his ribcage. He finds the patch of dirt where he’d lain as Narcissa hovered over his stilled body, asking the question that has frustrated him so after all these years, whether Draco survived. He collapses, arms falling against his sides as he begins to tremble with silent sobs, biting his lip so hard that he tastes warm blood on his tongue.

By the time Harry wakes, the clouds are thin and transparent. He pushes his glasses against the bridge of his nose. The shuffling of leaves to his right catches his attention.

“I suspected I’d find you here.”

“Why are you following me?”

“Consider it repayment, Potter. For all those years you stalked me.”

Draco chuckles to himself. Harry notices a warmth in his voice that was previously absent. It seeps through his aching bones, coaxing him awake after a long slumber, as if he’d journeyed through another life.

“Fair enough. Did you enjoy the festivities?”

“Hardly. Though I’m not sure what I expected. After all this time.”

Harry nods and settles back into the earth, arms resting at his sides.

Draco mimics the movement.

“Years ago, I laid right here—” Harry traces the ground with his finger. “Holding the Resurrection stone in my hand.”

Harry swallows before continuing. Draco lies motionless beside him, hands resting against his stomach.

“Your mother wondered what happened to you. She leaned over me and asked if you were still alive. I nodded. She turned to the Dark Lord and pronounced me dead.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Now you do.”

“Why did you come back, Potter?”

“Curiosity. To feel normal. Because I thought I could.”

Harry angles himself toward Draco, turning his head to face him. His eyes are so bright against the darkness, hidden with riddles that Harry desperately wants to solve. He feels frustration manifest inside once more. He reaches toward Draco in the dark, places a palm beneath his chest, where he imagines Draco’s scars are.

Draco’s breath hitches.

After a few moments, he speaks.

“Today I want
to resolve nothing.
I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold
blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.”

Harry loses himself in the rhythm of Draco’s voice, marveling at the unspoken melancholy filling the space between the string of words that tumble from his lips. Harry’s frustration dissolves inside of him, like the dying embers of his wand, buried in the drawer of the upstairs bedroom on 4 Privet Drive. The canopy of leafless branches shield the earnest glow of the moon. He closes his eyes, hand still resting on Draco’s chest.

The sunrise creeps through the trees, ribbons of light illuminate Harry and Draco’s pale, tired bodies. Harry yawns, untangling himself from the earth. The hand resting against Draco’s chest falls into the dirt, covered by Draco’s pale, thin fingers — nails short and perfectly rounded.

Harry leans forward and presses his lips to Draco’s temple, relieved when he fails to stir. He manages to pull his hand free of Draco’s and steady himself, pushing off the earth’s bed.

With a pop, he Disapparates.

Harry breathes. An exhale of air clings to his bottom lip, bargaining with gravity as it gently weeps, and moments later, falls against the darkened cobblestone sidewalk of East London. This place, with its rugged, industrial soul has become his sanctuary. The toes of his trainers are scuffed with grime and rainwater. His hands find little warmth cocooned in the pockets of his faux-suede jacket; the winter air alight with enough chill to remind him that he is, in fact, still alive. The sky is a subdued shade of gray — its thin white clouds exhausted from extracting the atmosphere’s tears, depositing them into the depths of the earth. He tilts his chin upward and stares, a feeble attempt at pushing away the pang of aimlessness that threatens to seize him. The branches cease their sway, waiting for the thud of Harry’s heartbeat against his chest. He blinks, and just like that, time exhales.

After last night’s fiasco, he needs to be as far away from Ron and Hermione as possible.

He sat, stiff, against the back of the wooden chair, Hermione’s voice traveled across the table, settling into the depths of his eardrums. He swallowed thickly, clutching his fork in his palm, a thin piece of roast speared between its claws.

“We never see you anymore, Harry. Surely Robards would grant you time off if you asked?”

Harry brought the fork to his mouth, pulling the moist meat from its clutches, his jaw clenched for a brief moment before he began to chew methodically.

“I miss talking Quidditch with you, mate. When’s the last time you caught a match?”

Satisfied, he swallowed, the side of his mouth turned downward at the sensation of the meat drop and settled beneath the cavern of his stomach.

“Maybe going out would do you a bit of good? You never know, you just may enjoy the company of someone else.”

He pursed his lips and brought a hand up to cover his face.

“I’m fine, you two. Stop meddling. Please.”

“But, Harry—”

Ron reached for Hermione’s hand, their fingers threaded together, resting beneath the wooden table. The legs of Harry’s chair scraped the floor, their wails causing Hermione to wince.

“I should be getting back. I have an early day tomorrow. I’ll see you guys around.”

He stepped through the threshold of the cottage and Disapparated, Hermione’s muffled cries echoed off his back like a boomerang.

The soft glow of light reflecting in the bookshop window pulls Harry from his thoughts. The black door is slightly ajar, an open invitation to settle underneath the onyx awning, offering a home for the lost and weary. He steps underneath, shielding himself from the cold for the briefest of moments when a shadow catches his eye. There, cocooned in a wooden alcove by the window, is Draco. Strands of his dark blond hair fall against his temple, nearly kissing his lashes. His trousers, neatly pressed and fitted, look almost black until a sliver of golden light brushes along the fabric, the dark navy tint a rich contrast against the bound pages of ivory parchment, a hardcover book balanced on his knee. His tortoise-shell frames slip an inch down the bridge of his nose, as his tongue darts out over his bottom lip.

Regret threatens to overwhelm Harry, remembering the last time words tumbled from Draco’s thin, pink lips. His bottom lip is darker, now, in the center. Shadows dance along the pale flesh, coated with saliva. Harry wishes he’d kissed him, all those years ago, before their bodies were stained with Voldemort’s ashes. He wishes, as he’d sliced Draco open that he could have stitched the ribbons of blood slashed across his body shut with his mouth.

A heavy sigh escapes his lips; the sound muffled by the city buzzing to life around him. He closes his eyes and Disapparates once more.

The work week passes in a haze. New, high profile cases fall across Harry’s desk, but he can’t bring himself to focus. His mind is consumed with thoughts of Draco — the way his dark, textured glasses frame his face, breathing the slightest bit of life back into his pale, angled cheekbones. He longs to discover the secrets hidden within the pages of the books Draco devours, to lose himself in the way his fingers grip the parchment, careful and precise, as if those are his most prized possessions, as if the courage he needs to begin again is buried deep within the words. He wonders what he’s up to, how he ended up in the rather industrial district of East London, what he does with his mornings, how he drifts through each day, whether or not he longs for the evenings cocooned deep within his little alcove by the window. In some ways, this is what Harry’s life has always been — watching Draco’s every move with such interest, following him into the dark corners of Hogwarts, trailing him through the earthy woods of the Forbidden Forest, waiting to catch a glimpse of Draco, held prisoner by the Malfoy name, a mere replica of his father’s body.

The sun begins its descent when Harry Apparates into East London once more, swaying against its pull before stepping forward on the cobblestone street, huddling under the protection of the onyx awning. His gaze is drawn to the window where he usually watches Draco with such interest. He sighs, hanging his head when he finds the alcove empty. After a moment, he steps inside the bookshop, unconsciously wandering over to Draco’s vacant spot. He settles into the cupboard, much like he used to do as a boy. There’s something jarring, yet strangely comforting about burrowing himself in such a small space, as if he’s turning back time, regaining the tiniest bit of innocence that the war and his job have ripped out of his chest, leaving the wound gaping, drops of blood splattering the floor. He shivers, reaching for a random book to his left. He crosses his ankles, bends the spine of the paperback; its cries muffled by the sound of Harry’s deep breathing.

By the time Harry looks up, years seem to have passed. The night sky flashes before him, seducing him with its deep navies and plums. He removes his glasses and begins rubbing his eyes in a soft, circular motion. He leans back against the spine of the cupboard, stretching his legs out in front of him, feeling the tendons in his thighs tremble, the air surrounding him sucks the tension from his body. He doesn’t register the shadow of a man approaching him.

“Well, I see you’ve made yourself at home.”

The voice deep, rich and drawn out startles Harry. He places his glasses on his face, perched against the bridge of his nose once more, slightly crooked. The moment he looks up, he’s thrust back into reality, staring at Draco with a hypnotic gleam in his eye. His breath catches in his throat as he focuses on the precision with which Draco’s dark rimmed glasses frame his face, patent black frames, this time. Harry’s sure Draco could seduce this entire shop of books without even touching them — imagines the way they would keen their spines toward him if they were able, revealing their deepest desires and secrets as he strokes their pages, sighing as his fingers grasp the corners of each one. He’s wearing a light blue button-down, with the sleeves tabbed at the elbows, fitted khaki trousers and taupe colored oxfords with black laces. His silver-gray eyes are trained on Harry, studying him, challenging him to stay rooted to his spot, to will him into submission.

Harry attempts to speak, but as the words threaten to tumble from his lips, he swallows them back down. He shifts himself forward, ducking his head to avoid hitting the top of the alcove, and stands. His hands are buried in the pockets of his denims, waiting for Draco to surrender, to give him the way out that he so desperately believes he wants. Draco shifts to the left, but makes no attempt to move.

Harry shivers. “I’ll just be going, then. Um, see you.”

Before Draco can respond, Harry vanishes, his warm, sweet scent of cinnamon, almond and honey lingering in the air of the bookshop.

The morning sun begins to give way to midday when Harry finds himself frozen in front of the bookshop again. This time, when he glances to his left, he sees Draco perched in his alcove; a thin book balanced on his knee, the crisp white pages of parchment highlighted against his black trousers. His white button-down is freshly pressed and fits him like a dream, veiling his pale skin. The fabric moves with him as he shifts in his alcove, the top two buttons undone.

Harry smiles as he steps forward, the slightest blush creeping up his neck, pulling the blood from his body and bringing it to the surface. The moment he steps inside the bookshop, the floors creak under the ribbons of sunlight mouthing aggressively at its cracks. Draco looks up; his black rimmed glasses sit perfectly against the bridge of his nose. Harry doesn’t cower from Draco’s gaze, even as his face flushes, and he blinks rapidly. He loves the thrill that shoots through his body as Draco stares at him, as warm and bright as a Lumos, as freeing and electrifying as an Expecto Patronum, tumbling from his lips. He longs for Draco to will him into submission. In this moment, he wants it more than anything. Harry watches Draco blink, sigh, and then tilt his head downward, eyes flitting across the page of ivory parchment once more.

Harry steps forward, the pang of disappointment threatening to nail his feet to the floor, to angle his hips toward the window, to push him forcefully out of the shop. A sigh escapes his parted lips and travels the length of the room, settling against the fabric disguising Draco’s knees.

“Do you come here often?” Harry asks, uncertainty hanging between them, swaying like a pendulum.

“When I can. It helps.”

Draco doesn’t look up. His acknowledgment is quiet and clipped. It sounds rehearsed. Foreign yet all-too-familiar to Harry’s ears.

Harry clenches his fist in restraint, suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to touch Draco.

“With what?”

Harry’s question comes out more breathy than he intends, as if he’s teetering on the edge of discovering something profound. He wants to laugh and cry simultaneously. He can feel the lump beginning to form in his throat; his fingers are going numb and his bottom lip trembles.

Then, Draco meets Harry’s eyes. The sight is enough to make Harry shatter, completely untouched. It feels as if he’s seeing a stranger for the first time. Regret creeps into his faculties, threatening to seize him. For more than half his life, Harry has sworn that Draco’s eyes were silver, hard, and slivered, glinting with mischief. Now, though, in this light, Draco’s eyes are light gray, like the spring sky before a soft rain, a hint of pale blue clinging to his irises. His gaze is pensive and worn; there’s something mysterious about him, but it’s no longer out of Harry’s reach. If he’s completely still, he’s certain he hears the faint pulse of Draco’s secrets against the fabric of his shirt, burrowing underneath his pale skin. It’s mesmerizing.

Draco’s words, low and laced with shame, pull Harry from his trance.

“The after.”

The subtle sway in Harry’s gait keeps Draco’s attention, until he moves, swift and sharp, palms resting against the thigh of his black denims.

Harry nods, his gaze downcast, lower lip wedged between his teeth. Oddly enough, he understands. He may not know Draco, however much he wants to, but he understands this. The frustratingly dull ache of loss and emptiness. The sober realization that if someone slashed him open, they’ll find that everything’s in working order, pristine condition, even—but his body, his bones, are hollow shells with irreparable divots and bruises. The light from his magical core is extinguished, its agonizing cries bouncing off his cavity.

“If you insist on staring at me, you may as well sit down.”

Harry chuckles nervously and wipes his palms against his denims once more.

“Is that an invitation, Draco?”

Draco shifts to the opposite corner of his alcove, a silent answer to Harry’s question.

“What are you reading?”

Draco sighs. His index finger rests against the inner spine of the book balanced on his knee.

“Poetry. Contemporary American.”

Harry swallows, fixing his gaze on the book perched on Draco’s knee.

“I never imagined you to be interested in the Muggle arts.”

“I’m not seventeen anymore, Potter.”

Harry looks at Draco, their eyes meeting briefly. Harry pushes his glasses up, so that they sit properly on the bridge of his nose.

“Neither am I.”

A smirk blooms on Draco’s lips before he turns his attention back to his book.

Hours pass; the metamorphosis of light tangles in the clouds reflecting in Harry’s glasses. The slightest change in color steals the breath from his lungs, innocent like a spring breeze, sugared with maple and the lingering promises of autumn as it clings to the shadows of its lover’s body.

Watching Draco read mesmerizes him. The way his thin, pale fingers hold the lower corner of each page, as if it were a delicate feather, but with such assurance, as if the prospect of tangling himself in something new with each turn of the page is what he most desires. Every so often, he sighs, a strand of golden-blond hair brushes his temple, pressing the softest kiss to his lashes. Harry aches with longing.

As afternoon falls, teasing dusk with its surrender, Harry begins to fidget. The soles of his trainers bounce and echo off the hardwood floor, answering his frustration with a series of annoying creaks.

Draco tenses and jerks his head toward Harry. “Would it bloody kill you to sit still?”

“But—” Harry begins, his voice resembles that of a whining child. He winces. “It’s nearly nightfall.”

Draco’s eyes widen. If Harry blinks, he’ll miss the faint blush that colored Draco’s cheeks. In truth, he’s stunning.

“Merlin,” Draco whispers, “I suppose I got carried away.”

“Is it always like this?”

Draco removes his glasses; the ear of the frame hangs between his index and middle finger. He smiles, though his gaze is directed at his feet.

Harry bites back a grin at Draco’s silent admission, doing his best to ignore the tiny flutter that blooms in his stomach.

Harry stands, palms flat against the fabric of his denims, lingering in the space of the quiet bookshop. An endless loop of waiting.

“Have you eaten?”

“Not since this morning.”

Harry watches Draco step in front of him, stretching lackadaisically, the tail of his white button-down rising to reveal a patch of pale skin just above his hipbone.

Harry swallows.

Draco moves toward the door, ducking at its threshold. Harry follows, nearly tripping over himself on his way out. Before he stops, the cold air slices his cheeks open.

“Aren’t you coming?”

Harry shoves his hands in his pockets, shifting from side to side.

“I can see you have questions, Harry. If you’re lucky, I’ll answer them,” Draco murmurs. “Come on.”

Harry looks at Draco, a warm glint in his green eyes, the beginnings of a spark resurrecting the boy he’d mourned all those years ago.

Four blocks and two right turns later, Harry and Draco are bathed in starlight, standing hesitantly in front of Hatch — an earthy cafe with elongated, wood tables reflecting in the windows, resembling the ones at Hogwarts.

Enticed by warmth and the faint scent of mint lingering against the nape of Draco’s neck, Harry steps forward, his eyes fluttering open, beads of white flashing in the aftermath. Industrial bulbs hang from the ceiling like chandeliers, the soft glow of light reflecting in Harry’s lenses. A brick wall shadows his figure, tangled with forest green ivy, slithering up the wall, licking each crevice before weaving intricate patterns that nearly touch the ceiling, its breath a whisper against the wooden beams. If he looks to his left, he can trace the astonishment settling in the lines of his face, see the illuminated streets of London kissing his fingertips, reflecting in the windows. He inhales slowly, eyes roaming around the rest of the place. As the exhale escapes his lips, he realizes Draco has yet to move.

“Tea or coffee?”

The echo of Draco’s voice ebbs and flows around the room, filling Harry with a warmth he’s only associated with his Patronus. The sensation makes him shiver.

“I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

“Right, then. Pick a spot, would you?”

Harry nods, still dumbfounded by the vastness of the cafe. It reminds him, incredibly so, of the Weasley’s. A dull ache settles into his bones. He shifts, swaying to his right, hands buried in the pockets of his denims. The moment he tilts his head, he sees it. A small staircase in the back of the cafe, leading to a makeshift kitchen. One elongated wooden table with two blue chairs, side by side. The evening sky looks close enough to touch; pieces of earth’s puzzle revealed in each little window, as if he could pluck a section from the sky and burrow it in his jacket pocket. For the first time in a long time, he feels like dreaming. He wonders if it will hurt. Dying never did.

“Peppermint? Or cinnamon and cranberry?”

Draco looks at Harry expectantly, placing a cup down in front of him, its clicking sound ringing in his ears. He looks up, nearly gaping at Draco.

“Cinnamon and cranberry is fine.”

Harry shifts in his seat, half expecting Draco to flinch when their shoulders nearly touch. He doesn’t. Instead, Harry watches him reach into his trouser pocket and pull out a book. The same one from earlier.

“Did you —?”

“Steal it? No. I borrowed it. It shall be returned tomorrow. Or when I finish with it. Whichever comes first.”

“You can’t borrow books from a store, Draco. Though it’s called Libreria, it’s not a library. You do know that, right?”

“Why, I hadn’t the slightest idea, Potter. How generous of you to inform me.” Draco gestures with his hands as he speaks, a hint of youthful arrogance coloring his words, though his eyes sparkle with amusement. Harry finds himself hypnotized by the mere swish and flick of Draco’s wrists. He wonders if Draco even realizes he’s moving them.

Harry sighs, rolling his eyes.

“At least you can choose a decent seat these days. The positions you used to take up whilst gaping at me across the Great Hall likely left a crick in your neck for days.” Draco smirks, rather pleased with himself.

Harry blushes.

“How’d you find this place, anyway?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time here over the last few years, Potter. Discovering it was mere accident. I spent a summer evening in Liberia, surrounding myself with elusive words from honest strangers bound in pages of books. It was well past closing time when I realized I hadn’t eaten, so I walked a few blocks and stumbled through these doors, seduced by its familiarity. Something I ached for, that night. Longing for a feeling that I lost long ago.”

A sigh escapes Harry’s lips as he offers a small nod. Sitting in this place, now with Draco, feels so much like it did all those years ago at Hogwarts. Familiar. Terrifying. Fragile, like the origami bird that flew across Lupin’s classroom in third year, landing softly on the wood top of his desk. He chances a look at Draco, captivated by the way his thin, pale fingers curl around the ceramic handle of his tea mug. He wonders what those fingers would feel like against his skin in the dark — feather-light strokes trailing along his ribcage, a whimper tumbling from his lips as Draco hovers above him, so close, yet so far. His eyes follow Draco’s movements as he brings the mug to his lips. A slight sheen settles into the thin line of skin, the pale pink color of Draco’s lips changing once his tongue darts out to lick the remnants from his flesh.

“Your tea has likely gone cold, Potter. However, I suppose that’s what happens when you’re preoccupied,” Draco drawls, his subtle flirtation suspended in the air above them.

A blush creeps up Harry’s neck before settling into his cheeks. Tentatively, he raises his mug to his lips, savoring the tart, spicy sensation on his tongue before the lukewarm liquid slithers down his throat, coating it with sugar, warmth, and the tiniest bit of courage.

“Draco,” Harry whispers, an unmistakable lilt coloring his voice.

The look Draco gives Harry steals the breath from his lungs and makes his fingertips tremble beneath the wooden tabletop. A single strand of hair falls across the right side of Draco’s face, kissing his black-framed glasses. His eyes are warm and intense, as if he’s truly seeing Harry for the first time, not as the Boy-Who-Lived, the Chosen One, or even Potter. But Harry. The more Draco studies him, the more Harry notices the astonishment settling into the half-moons underneath his eyes, smoothing out the harsh angles of his cheekbones and jaw. Harry resists the urge to fidget as he watches a blush creep onto Draco’s cheeks. If this is what it feels like to have Draco’s full attention, well, Harry’s certain he’s ill prepared. Harry can no longer ignore the tingle thrumming with magic and desire at the base of his spine. All he sees is Draco. In this moment, they are infinite.

Unconsciously, Harry licks his lips. The remnants of cinnamon and cranberry settle into the thin layer of skin. He holds Draco’s gaze, a cyclical, dangerous game, though it feels nothing like a game at all. His breath hitches as Draco parts his lips ever so slightly, an invitation, perhaps, to tumble forward and never look back. Draco shifts in his seat, waiting. For what, Harry can’t be sure. But he wants to hear Draco speak. To lose himself in the steady cadence of his voice, smooth and shiny like a brand new broom handle. He wants Draco’s words to permeate him, to suck the venomous, dull ache from his bones and replace it with seeds. He wants to cocoon himself in the pages of words that Draco reads, to anticipate the words as they fall from his mouth, to revel in their stream as they reach down to kiss the seedlings in his bones, so he can become the place where the living dwell, once more.

“Would you—” Harry whispers, averting his gaze from Draco’s face, afraid, still, after all these years, of being so vulnerable. To let Draco see him, pried open and empty. He swallows thickly, then purses his lips before continuing. “Read to me?”

Harry doesn’t need to look at Draco to know the way his fingers settle, softly, against the hardcover of his book, or the way he traces the embossed edges of the block lettering with such reverie. It’s as if the answer to every prayer that tumbled from his lips as they trembled - as his body shook with tremors, hiding in the corner of his childhood room from the Dark Lord - is hidden within those pages. His own Resurrection stone. Harry closes his eyes, nursing his bottom lip between his teeth, waiting for Draco to speak. The rustling of pages echoes off the brick walls in the vacant cafe. He hears Draco shift in his seat, unknowingly holding his breath as Draco inhales sharply. The moment he exhales, Harry’s eyes flutter open.

You tell me to quiet down cause
My opinions make me less beautiful
But I was not made with a fire in my belly
So I could be put out.
I was not made with a lightness in my tongue
So I could be easy to swallow.
I was made heavy
Half blade and half silk.
Difficult to forget but
Not easy for the mind to follow.

As the poem ends, and the last syllables tumble forward from Draco’s lips, he smiles, marveling at the words on the page. Harry rakes his fingers through his hair, never tearing his eyes from Draco’s face, though his gaze travels downward to settle on Draco’s lips, spellbound with the way they part, just enough to reveal a subtle glimmer of white. His words don’t even register as he speaks them aloud.

“You’re extraordinary, you know?”

Draco looks up and swallows thickly. Harry follows the movement of his adam’s apple as it lilts. Draco sighs and with a slight tilt, shakes his head.

“It’s just a poem, Potter,” he murmurs, suddenly embarrassed. He looks small, again, like the moment could swallow him whole. “And your hair is still rather dreadful.”

The insult makes him smile. A warmth floods his body. Draco hasn’t completely retreated. He wants to keep it that way.

“I know, Draco. I was paying you a compliment. The proper thing to say is ‘thank you’. It’s nice to know you still care so much about my hair.”

“Well, thank you, I suppose. And for the record — ” Draco pauses, rolling his eyes. “I don’t, nor have I ever cared about your hair.”

“Mmmmm,” Harry hums, as the corner of his lips turn upward. He rakes his fingers through his hair once more, smoothes it down as best he can.

“Are you finished with your tea?”

Harry nods and Draco pushes himself from the table. Harry watches him, again, as he smooths his trousers and descends down the stairs to the front of the cafe. There’s so much he longs to discover, to understand about the man below him. It almost makes him ache with regret that he never gave that pale blond boy in Madam Malkin’s a chance, all those years ago. The past cannot be changed nor repeated. The risk is too great.

His gaze moves to the windows, settling on an upper panel, where bare tree limbs are bathed in plum, their fragile ends kissed by the stars. Each time he looks up, he’s reminded of Sirius, floating in a chasm before his murder; the light in his chest extinguished, pulled from him by the dementors lurking behind the clouds, their wispy, fragile tails illuminated by the stars. How lonely he must have been, perpetually trapped in isolation, a prisoner to the depths of regret in his own mind. Each time either of them allowed themselves to be still, each time they convinced themselves to reach out and touch, to thread their fingers through the empty spaces of someone else’s, the person slips from their grasp, elusive and without regret. His throat tightens, and his bottom lip begins to tremble. His fingers, resting against the tabletop, are beginning to numb, and he sees a prickle of moisture sticking to the lens of his glasses. He balls his fists, digging his jagged nails into his palm hard enough to give birth to tiny half-moons, red and slightly raised.

It’s then, of course, that Draco returns. His left hand falls onto the back of the blue chair, while his right remains securely in his trouser pocket. Harry can feel Draco’s eyes on him, trying to piece together parts of a boy he was so certain he’d known, all those years ago.

“Potter,” Draco whispers, devoid of the taunting tone from third year in the Great Hall, “are you alright?” Harry shivers as he feels Draco place a hand on his shoulder.

Harry turns and then the tears, now noticeable, settle into the curved underbelly of his glasses, obscuring his vision. Even in this light, Draco looks stunning. He sniffles before answering. “I’m fine, Draco. It’s nothing.”

Draco removes his hand from Harry’s shoulder, causing Harry to wince at the loss of contact. “I didn’t mean …” he begins, unsure of what to say next. In the end, he opts for the unexpected. “I’m sorry.”

“Shall we?”

Harry nods, allowing himself to be led once more.

Winter’s teeth gnaw at their flesh as they step out onto the cobblestone street. Harry sucks in a breath, the air stinging his lungs as he hears Draco mutter a warming charm. Thankfully, one of them isn’t pants at it.

“Thanks.”

Draco looks at Harry curiously. His eyes seem even brighter against the plum sky that envelops them. If all Harry can do is stare at Draco for the rest of his life, a small part of him will be satisfied.

“Whatever for?”

“For not taking the piss, back there.”

Draco sighs, smiling faintly. “As I’ve said, I’m not seventeen anymore. Or sixteen, fifteen or fourteen, for that matter. I know you’re hurting, Potter. You think I don’t notice, but I see you.”

Harry turns pale as his glasses slip an inch down his nose.

“Back then,” Draco begins, turning his hips forward and walking, “I wished for you. I may have even prayed once, for you to come to my rescue. To kill the Dark Lord.”

Harry looks up. Draco is a few paces ahead of him, his voice fading in the dark. He stumbles over himself to catch up.

“Draco,” Harry whispers, grasping his forearm gently.

Draco stills and stares at Harry.

“You’re not the only one with scars, Potter. We all have them. We all want to escape.”

“Is that why you read your books? To escape?”

“That is part of it, yes.”

“How about the rest?”

“Let’s walk. If you’re unable to keep up, I’m liable to apparate myself home.”

Harry drops his hand from Draco’s forearm, determined.

They walk in silence for a few moments. Harry burrows his hands deep in the pockets of his denims, losing himself in the shuffling sound his feet make against the cobblestone. It’s nearly cold enough to see each exhale come to life in front of his face, if the wind weren’t so bloody sharp and demanding, sweeping his breath away like bits of saltwater dissolving in the sand at Shells Cottage.

It’s Draco who speaks first.

“What were you thinking of—” He pauses, In sixth year, during the battle, ten years ago, earlier tonight. “back there?”

“Sirius. Of course, I always think of him, but this time … I ached because I imagined how miserable his life must have been. The last years of it, anyway. I watched Bellatrix murder him, Draco. I saw the light leave his eyes. I can’t —” Harry quiets, turning his gaze toward the sky, avoiding Draco’s eyes for fear of what he might see reflected in them.

“You’ve made isolation your companion. Out of fear.”

Harry nods, his eyes filling with tears once more. He pulls air from the atmosphere into his lungs; his lips quiver slightly in the soft glow of moonlight.

“I know. And I don’t know what to do. I can’t be who everyone expects, Draco.”

Draco stops walking and angles himself toward Harry. “Who is everyone, exactly?”

Harry sighs, turning with a jerk toward Draco. “Robards. Ron. Hermione.”

“Is that all?”

Harry sighs, hanging his head in defeat. Draco knows better. Somehow, he always has. “Myself.”

“I thought so,” Draco whispers. He lifts his hand slowly, placing his palm against Harry’s sternum. “When you’re ready, you’ll let go.”

Draco slides his hand to the left, over Harry’s heart, and Harry knows he’s never seen anyone more beautiful. He longs for a flask to bottle this moment, to weave himself into the intricate web of Draco’s touch, to revel in his presence, constant like sunrise and sunset, unchanging like the passing of time.

Draco pulls his hand from where it rests against the fabric of Harry’s shirt. He swallows, pushing a strand of hair from his face and adjusts his glasses. The moment suspended between them dissolving beneath their feet.

The cold air nudges them along, nipping at their ankles, clinging to the warmth of their napes, when Draco once again pulls the same book from his trousers pocket. Draco smirks, a quiet Lumos tumbling from his mouth. He tilts his head toward Harry, and begins to read.

I was lonely as a tunnel. Birds flew from me.
And night invaded me with her powerful army.
To survive I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow for my bow, or a stone for my sling.

Harry stares into the distance, focusing on the rich, melancholy timbre of Draco’s voice. He’s captivated with the way the words fall from his lips with precision, as if he’s trying to communicate with Harry through a language that is so incredibly foreign to him. The sound is still quite pleasing, but Draco wants him to understand something. This, he knows.

“What is it, Draco?”

“The things I saw,” Draco begins, his voice quiet, traveling down, dissolving with a hiss against his oxfords. “The Dark Lord’s sycophants broke me and made me forget what fear felt like. They tore at my flesh with their teeth, struck me until the last tear slithered down my cheek, and I stumbled into the black abyss.”

Harry swallows thickly; his palm rests against his forehead. “Draco—” His voice is soft and broken. The midnight breeze holds Draco’s name captive.

The air shifts around them, and Draco’s warming charm vanishes. They stand, facing each other once more, as they did all those years ago. Young wizards, standing atop the wooden tables in the Great Hall, wands drawn with intent, longing to will the other into submission with the severity of their gaze. This time, though, their eyes reflect in the lenses of the other, heavy with sadness but anchored by something desirous; their shadows rest against the cobblestone sidewalk, bathed in moonlight.

Moments of silence pass between them before Draco speaks once more; the words tumble from his lips, and his eyes flutter closed.

You pinned
my legs to
the ground
with your feet
and demanded
I stand up.

A sigh escapes Draco’s lips as he opens his eyes. “He took everything from me. And yet ...” Draco swallows. Harry follows the movement of his throat muscles with his eyes, afraid this moment will pass him by if he blinks. “Somehow, I knew it would be you that turned him to ash. Until the moment arrived, I did what I had to do to survive. I carved out my heart and placed it in a box beneath the floorboards. I’d press my ear to the floor, most nights, to be certain I could hear its echo.”

Harry steps forward and closes the space between their fragile bodies. He lifts his palm to Draco’s face; his calloused fingertips settle against the curve of Draco’s cheekbone. Touching him finally, like this, makes Harry feel dizzy. His fingertips tingle in response to the warmth of Draco’s skin. Even in the chill of winter, Draco’s body is warm and alive, and Harry wants nothing more than to cocoon himself inside of it.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you, Draco.”

“Don’t you see?”

Harry blinks once before he trails down the path of flesh that leads to Draco’s lips. He brushes the pad of his thumb against Draco’s bottom lip, spellbound by the agonizingly slow movement of Draco’s lips as they part, inviting Harry somewhere sacred, buried in the depths of his soul that still echoes beneath the floorboards of the Manor.

Draco’s breath hitches, and for the first time in a long time, Harry’s smile reaches his eyes.

Draco unlatches the tiny iron gate that protects his flat. The building’s texture is reminiscent of the wall leading to Platform nine and three-quarters, a soft shade of mocha, with all different shapes of white-washed frames. Draco pulls a thin, silver key from his trouser pocket and lets it graze the lock before a faint Alohomora tumbles from his lips.

Harry looks at him quizzically. Draco turns the knob and looks back at Harry.

“One can never be too careful. Surely, you didn’t think I’d given up my magic completely, did you?”

Harry swallows; a blush blooms against his neck and rises to his cheeks.

Draco smiles and a warm, lazy chuckle escapes his lips, settling against Harry’s skin. Draco turns back toward the door and steps through the threshold. He shifts slightly, and presses his back against the wall, a gesture Harry wants to make certain he’s read correctly.

“Are you going to stand outside and freeze to death, Potter? I imagine that’s quite unpleasant.”

“Oh. Um. No, I suppose not.”

Draco ushers him inside and shuts the door behind them, muttering a Colloportus before he moves to the living room.

“Make yourself comfortable. Drink?”

Draco pulls his button-down free of his trousers, rolls the sleeves up to his elbows, and runs his fingers through his hair. Harry watches his movements with great interest, doing his best to resist the heavy thrum of arousal that threatens to travel up his spine and seize his body.

Harry nods, not trusting himself to speak. He settles onto the couch and revels in the warmth of Draco’s place. It’s small and cozy, but it suits him. A bay window anchors the room and crisp, white curtains kiss the hardwood floor beneath Harry’s feet. A built-in fireplace sits in the center of the room, cocooned in ivory bricks. Strangely, it reminds Harry of the Gryffindor Common Room. He feels safe enough to bask in the warmth that surrounds him. His eyes flutter close and he begins to lose himself in the hiss of the fireplace, the muffled sounds of movement echoing throughout the hall, likely Draco messing about in the kitchen.

“Potter—” Draco calls. His voice lingers in the hall corridor, yet sounds close, as if he’s hovering Harry, breath warm against his neck. Harry’s eyes snap open. He feels tense, yet disoriented. “I’ve wine, Firewhisky, or tea. Pick your poison.”

“Firewhisky suits me,” Harry answers weakly. He sits up a little straighter, removes his glasses, and then begins to rub his eyes in hopes to vanquish the sleep that threatens to settle in them.

Draco returns moments later, glasses in hand. Harry doesn’t miss the way his fingers curl around the glass, firm enough to leave the faintest imprint, though not nearly as formal as the way his palm cocooned around the ceramic cup of tea hours earlier. Draco places the two glasses atop the wooden coffee table that brushes Harry’s knees. He retreats to the hall corridor and kneels, unlacing his oxfords and toeing out of them. He tucks them in the corner of the open closet, and rejoins Harry in the living room. He sits on the edge of the couch, his knee brushes Harry’s.

Bewilderment flashes across Harry’s face, and he fidgets with his hands, clasping them across his lap. It’s as if he’s forgotten what it feels like to be in the company of another man. To be so incredibly close and feel something other than fear crippling him. What a remarkable and dangerous thing. He reaches for his glass and grips it so tightly that the pads of his fingers lose their pink, fleshy tinge.

“Not what you expected, I presume?” Draco drawls; the words tumble to the bottom of his glass. He sips slowly, though he watches Harry out of the corner of his eye, comfortable in the chasm that is waiting. Harry wonders if Draco secretly enjoys it, the waiting. He wonders if Draco’s sole purpose of being is to experience that moment of breathlessness that falls uninhibited from his mouth, suspended in time, just before anonymity’s fingers ghost along his spine, and nudge him toward his long-awaited release. Harry wonders if the sun could rise and set in Draco’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I asked you—” Draco sets his glass on his knee, holding it loosely in place with a finger, and begins to comb his fingers through his hair, sighing heavily. “If this is what you expected? Since you’re determined to look utterly bewildered.”

“Oh. Um...” Harry feels the blush as it rises to his cheeks. “Not quite, but, it feels —” Harry bites his bottom lip, pushing his glasses flush up against the bridge of his nose. “Familiar. Like home. It suits you, really.”

“Home,” Draco repeats, almost breathlessly, as if he’s found the final piece to a missing puzzle, after all these years.

Harry smiles sheepishly.

“Like Hogwarts was for you?”

Harry swallows and looks at Draco, who is staring unabashedly.

Silence pins itself in the empty space between them, basks in the soft glow of Draco’s living room light, and waits.

“Yes.”

Draco expects this admission, but is taken aback by its quiet nature; woven together barely so, and anchored with a braided rope of regret and fear.

“I miss it, sometimes. Rather, what it was, before.”

Harry nods, comfortable in the silence, and places his glass atop the small table once more. The heavy clink echoes throughout the room. His eyes fall on a wooden bookshelf, cocooned underneath the bay window.

“Ah,” Draco muses, “quite the odd story, actually. Gifted to me by an older fellow who used to frequent the bookshop you found me in. I gladly accepted, because I needed a space for my books.”

Harry nearly laughs a smile forming at the corners of his lips.

“He reminded me of Ollivander a bit.”

Harry’s shoulders go stiff; the memory of the last time he saw Ollivander snakes to the forefront of his mind.

“Do you still have your old wand?”

“Yes. In a box with my mother’s things.”

“Your mother’s things?”

Draco looks down, and suddenly, Harry’s transported back in time, watching himself pull Draco’s wand from his clammy, fragile hands, catching a final glance at him before he turns to Apparate, looking bewildered and utterly defeated. How Draco resembles that frightened boy, now.

“Draco. I’m —”

“Don’t. It’s better this way.”

Harry sighs and wills himself to change the subject.

“Those books,” Harry’s voice is soft, careful. He gestures to the shelf with a tip of his chin. “Where are they from?”

“Everywhere. My childhood. The Hogwarts Library. Paris bookshops. Various others.”

A small gasp escapes Harry’s lips, though his mouth turns upward, a subdued smile blooms on his lips. “You stole from the Hogwarts Library?”

“Always the tone of surprise, Potter.”

“I am surprised.”

“Because it’s quite possible you never actually knew me at all, contrary to your Gryffindorian belief?”

“Touche.”

Draco stands and walks leisurely to his small bookshelf. The soft glow of light kisses his skin as he moves. His golden-blond hair seems richer, somehow, in this light. Harry wonders what it would feel like to run his fingers through it. He wonders if Draco would lean into his touch, if the softest moan would escape his lips. Harry is sure he can make out the faintest bit of stubble growing underneath Draco’s chin as he leans down to clutch a paperback in his hands. A wandering mind is dangerous.

“Do you mind,” Harry begins, his voice timid, “telling me why you read, so often?”

“I thought it only a matter of time before you asked — again.”

Harry chuckles as a nervous tingle settles at the base of his spine.

“There is something quite fascinating about finding pieces of yourself hidden within the work of another. It’s curious, how a stranger could know me so well.”

“Curious,” Harry repeats, more to himself than anyone else. He thinks of Dumbledore’s knowing smile as he disappeared into infinity’s abyss.

Draco offers a small nod, opens up the book, and begins to read.

If you came to me with a face I have not seen, with a name I
have never heard, I would still know you. Even if centuries
separated us, I would still feel you. Somewhere between the
sand and the stardust, through every collapse and creation,
there is a pulse that echoes of you and I.

When we leave this world, we give up all our possessions
and our memories. Love is the only thing we take with us.
It is all we carry from one life to the next.

As Draco’s final words tumble from his lips, Harry’s heart plummets into a freefall, its rapid beats hammering his ribcage, thrashing against fragile wounds tied with twine, snapping it in half with minimal effort. He thrusts himself forward, placing his warm palm against Draco’s cheek.

“Draco,” Harry whispers, sadly, as he lowers his gaze, focused on the space between them. He can’t do this now. He closes his eyes briefly, cursing the tightness in his throat. A weak gasp escapes his lips as he feels warm fingers tilt his chin upward once more. Suddenly, Draco is staring at him, and he forgets what it feels like to breathe.

“Stop running, Potter. Be still. Just once.”

Harry swallows and it hurts. The room is all at once too vast, yet, too small. He traps his bottom lip between his teeth, his hand still resting against Draco’s cheek. He can feel the birth of a tingle in his fingertips. He wonders what this feels like for Draco, if he even notices it at all.

A whimper escapes Harry’s lips the moment Draco leans forward to touch him. He removes Harry’s glasses from his face, each temple held securely between his thumb and index finger. Harry watches, closely, as Draco folds the temples of his glasses inward and places them face up on the small coffee table.

Harry wants to speak, but he can’t. There are no words caught in his throat, nor bouncing against his tongue, thrashing at the thin flesh inside his cheeks. Even without his glasses, he sees Draco perfectly.

“Close your eyes.”

The command sounds so foreign to Harry’s ears, as if he’s heard it only in the depths of his subconscious, but strangely familiar like he’s whispered it to Draco in the dark, as slivers of moonlight illuminated their faces.

Harry’s heart halts inside his chest as his world goes dark. The only sound that surrounds him is the quiet clink of Draco’s glasses against the table, echoing throughout the room. He feels Draco’s thumb brush his lips; a broken sigh escapes Draco’s mouth, preparing to hang itself with indecision’s noose. Harry exhales, involuntarily, before a flash of white light combusts behind his eyes. He hears his mother’s voice, a soft whisper. Let go, sweetheart. You’re ready.

He can feel the heaviness of Draco’s pulse, pounding against his wrists, thudding against the pale, slender curve of his neck. He leans in, just so; a soft smile blooms against his lips as he feels the surrender of Draco’s thumb. Harry licks his lips, once, and closes the remaining distance between them.

Draco is warm, refreshing, and the slightest bit sweet. He tastes like Firewhisky and lemon, and Harry wants nothing more than to devour him. A muffled moan escapes his lips as Draco opens for him, offering him just enough to explore but not enough to surrender completely. He fits Harry perfectly. Maybe he always has. Harry licks into Draco’s mouth, swallowing his exhale as if it’s his last breath of air before the requiem, fifteen years too late.

Much to Harry’s surprise, it’s Draco who pulls away, agonizingly slow, as if he’s weighing how much this is worth, as if he’s fighting his own battles, still.

“Harry.”

Harry swallows in an attempt to control the frantic breaths escaping his lips, to no avail. He can feel himself going pale, cursing his instincts for kicking in. He didn’t even notice Draco call him by his first name.

“Harry,” he hears again, less breathy, more controlled. He shivers at the feeling of Draco’s warm fingers brushing against his forehead, tracing the remnants of his scar.

“Please,” Harry begins, his voice broken, hoarse, “keep saying it.”

Draco chuckles, and a blush creeps onto Harry’s cheeks.

“Harry,” Draco murmurs, “I’ve waited nearly half my life to —”

Harry shivers, nearly unable to maintain any sense of control. As his name tumbles from Draco’s lips once more, an answered benediction.

Harry’s lips cut Draco off. He longs to feel the ease of dying, the pain of living, buried in the flesh of Draco’s mouth.

“Draco,” Harry whispers as he pushes himself flush against the back of the couch cushion, hoping that he won’t have to ask for what he wants, laced with vulnerability. He’s already given so much.

Draco pulls back and rises from the couch. Harry follows his movements as best he can. The breath is knocked from his lungs when Draco hovers over him, a smirk tattooed on his lips, though his eyes are radiating warmth. He looks disheveled, but still so much like himself that it makes Harry ache.

“Come with me.”

A broken exhale escapes Harry’s lips as Draco burrows himself in the vacant space between Harry’s knees, holding his glasses between his thumb and index finger, before unfolding them, placing the bridge up against Harry’s nose perfectly. The sheer intimacy of it all is enough to make Harry lose his mind, particularly when he looks up at Draco. He looks so much like the boy Harry quarreled endlessly with, the boy who refused, even in his darkest hour to turn him over to the Dark Lord. Harry knows him, and yet, it’ll never be enough.

Harry rises from the couch and threads his fingers through Draco’s, determined to find the beauty in standing still. As they walk, Harry can’t help but steal a glance at Draco every now and then, reveling in the way the soft glow from the living room light kisses his skin. He blushes as he catches Draco’s smirk out of the corner of his eye.

As they reach the corridor that leads to the back of the house, Harry hesitates a moment before he slips his fingers out of Draco’s grasp, regret etched in the half-moons underneath his eyes. A chill settles against the nape of his neck, and he watches Draco’s throat as he swallows in the dark. He sucks in a breath as the floor creaks beneath him, itching to retrieve his non-existent wand from the back pocket of his denims. The Crucio tastes the sweetest in his mouth; his shoulders fall with ease as it sits, perched atop his bottom lip, prepared for the fall. He flinches when Draco appears in front of him. His eyes are wide and he stumbles backward against the open cubby of the staircase. Draco hasn’t moved, though he’s looking at Harry with a sullen expression, as if he’s trying to understand the the moment that Harry became Potter. When the boy he’d secretly longed for over half his life disappeared.

“Harry,” Draco whispers, his voice soft and broken in the dark, “where did you go?”

Harry sucks the air from the small corridor into his lungs, in part, to feel himself shatter. To be one with his ghosts. Ever-present yet elusive.

“Draco,” Harry whispers, slowly coming back to himself. A moment passes between them before his body begins to convulse with silent sobs, Draco’s footsteps echoing against the hardwood. Their movements in the dark mimic the sound of the rain: heavy with sin, their pain nothing more than a sacrifice to the earth, bowed together, living, by grace.

“Shhh, it’s alright. I’ve got you.”

Harry pulls Draco into an embrace; his parted lips brush the side of Draco’s neck as slow exhales escape his mouth, focusing on the steady thump of Draco’s pulse just underneath his skin. Harry’s shoulders fall voluntarily at Draco’s touch, relishing in the freedom from tension’s shackles.

“I just want to sleep, Draco. I can’t go —”

“I know, Harry.”

Harry sighs when Draco pulls away, his eyes going slightly wide as Draco threads their fingers together, beginning his descent into the moonlit bedroom across the hall, Harry relinquishing control. As they cross the threshold, Harry shivers. It feels as if he’s stepped into something sacred: the land of the living. He looks around the room, his hands still entwined with Draco’s. It’s bathed in white. A tall bookshelf sits in the corner by the window, the moon casting shadows of words and phrases against the hardwood floor. The closet and dresser are built in, and in the far corner, by the door, is Draco’s Hogwarts trunk.

Harry’s breath hitches as Draco steps forward, pressing their bodies together, walking Harry backward until the backs of his knees graze the warm duvet.

“Sit,” Draco murmurs, more a plea than a command.

Harry drops, though he hardly feels the impact. His eyes are focused on Draco, who is enough to consume him. To burn him from the inside out and turn him into tiny bits of ash, no larger than the particles that covered his face as they narrowly escaped the Room of Requirement’s wrath all those years ago. Draco’s shoulders are bathed in moonlight; the rise and fall of his chest is the only sound filling the room.

Harry swallows, nearly at his wits end with anticipation. He bites back the whine that claws for release behind his lips, reveling in the tingling sensation swirling in his abdomen, rising and falling with each breath that escapes his lips.

“Harry,” Draco whispers, mouthing a silent cushioning charm before lowering himself to his knees. His eyes look so much like Sirius’s used to, sparkling in the Hogwarts courtyard, full of sincerity and soon, the promise of something more. Harry wants him so much it hurts.

Harry nods. Draco raises himself and leans forward, eagerly swallowing the sigh that escapes Harry’s lips. Harry moans as Draco licks into his mouth, pushing his body forward, bringing his palms to rest against Harry’s thighs. Harry leans down into the kiss, pushing himself deeper into Draco’s mouth, his hands tangling in Draco’s hair, growing more desperate with every passing moment.

Harry lips linger on Draco’s, nibbling at his bottom lip, gaining just enough control to pull away. “Mmmm, not enough. More. C’mere.”

Draco looks so young to Harry as he rises from the floor, vanishing his cushioning charm with a subtle flick of the wrist. His well-groomed hair is mussed, a few strands sticking out like sore thumbs. His neatly pressed white shirt is wrinkled at his collarbones. Draco’s warm laughter fills the room as he combs his fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame it. Harry feels it in his bones, etched in the divots and cracks. Filling the vacancies in his body like constellations in the sky. A promise.

Harry turns, angling his hips toward the door of Draco’s room, toes out of his trainers and scoots back on Draco’s bed, positioning his spine against the cool touch of Draco’s pillows.

“Someone’s made themselves comfortable,” Draco teases, unable to hide his smile. The devious gleam in his eye sets Harry’s cheeks aflame. He watches intently as Draco’s fingers graze across his neck before he bends down to place Harry’s shoes at the foot of the bed, properly aligned and stowed away. There’s something incredibly intimate about watching Draco in the darkness, a tiny sliver of moonlight illuminating the floor. Harry wishes he could bottle this moment, bury himself in the fabric of Draco’s shirt, his warm and distinctive scent carrying him into hypnotic bliss, with no concept of space or time, where everything is still.

Harry props himself up on his elbows, bottom lip lodged between his teeth. He watches Draco’s throat work as he swallows, the way his adam’s apple slithers downward, jerks, and then rights itself, slowly, beneath the pale layer of skin.

“Draco,” Harry whimpers.

“Tell me, Harry. Tell me what you want.” Draco’s voice is low and smooth, like the burn of Harry’s favorite ale as it slides down his throat that always causes his eyes to flutter closed.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Draco shakes his head, though a smirk is etched on his lips.

Harry releases a frustrated sigh.

Draco kneels onto the bed, inching his way toward Harry. Harry sucks in a breath as Draco nudges his knees apart, crawling into the vacant space between them. He pulls himself up to Harry, brushing his lips against his neck. Harry shivers.

“All you have to do is ask.”

“Please,” Harry whispers, though he’s a touch away from crumbling. “Make me forget?”

Harry winces as Draco pulls back, running his fingers through his hair. His whisper is quiet, though it echoes against the floor.

“Forget what, Harry?”

“Everything.”

Draco sighs, and Harry knows he’s said the wrong thing.

“No, Draco. I mean —”

Harry lowers his head, pressing his palm against his forehead.

“Do you remember that night in the Forbidden Forest?”

“How could I forget? You placed your hand on my chest, like you knew it always belonged there. Then,” Draco begins, shrinking back from Harry even further, “you Disapparated.”

“You … knew?”

“Of course I knew, Harry. Too often, you forget how well I —”

Harry raises from the mattress abruptly, pushing himself into Draco’s space. “How well you what, Draco?”

“How well I know you, you insufferable, maddening git.”

Harry’s furious now. The room is spinning and his fingers have gone numb.

“Show me, then,” Harry murmurs; his hand grips Draco’s wrinkled shirt. “How well you think you know me.”

Harry’s proposition hangs suspended in the air between them, laced with fifteen years of frustration.

A moment passes, and then Harry stumbles backward as Draco thrusts his body forward, hovering above him. Draco’s arms brace both sides of Harry’s head, inches between his skin and Harry’s ears. Harry gasps as Draco pushes himself down, prying his lips further apart with his tongue, slowly, methodically. Like he’s dreamed of the ways in which he could make Harry fall apart.

Instinctively, Harry shifts his legs further apart.

“That’s it, Harry.” Draco removes his lips from Harry’s, though his whisper grazes Harry’s chin. “Let me in.”

Draco’s confession drips with thievery, plundering the words from Harry’s mouth, plucking the thoughts from his brain. All Harry can do is moan in response to Draco’s touch, tug at the fabric of his shirt, and hope that his actions convey what his mouth cannot.

Harry’s fingers tremble as he reaches for the middle button hole on Draco’s shirt. He just begins to tug when —

“I don’t think so.”

“Draco—”

“You asked me to make you forget everything,” Draco drawls, tugging at Harry’s bottom lip with his teeth.

“And then, you challenged me.” Harry sighs, as Draco licks into his mouth, shifting, with a wince, when Draco pulls away. “To prove how well I think I know you.” Draco lowers his head, tongue darting out to lick a thin stripe down Harry’s neck, curving around his adam’s apple, causing a breathy groan to escape Harry’s lips.

“Please, Draco. I need to feel you everywhere. All the time. Yes, always wanted this.”

“That’s more like it,” Draco murmurs. Harry doesn’t even have to look at him to see the smirk tattooed on his lips. “Up, you.”

Harry leans forward, positioning his elbows against the duvet. His breath hitches as Draco’s hands snake behind him, before they settle against the base of his spine and his fingers grasp the hem of his t-shirt, pulling it upward.

Harry shivers as Draco cups his palm against Harry’s cheek. His throat feels tight as he watches something shift in Draco’s eyes, as if he’s realized that such an intimacy is not only found in the bound pages of books, in the spaces between words on a page, but embedded in soft flesh of Harry’s lips, in the singed scar carved into his forehead, in the metronomic pulse underneath his wrist.

Harry wants so desperately to speak, but fear pins his tongue to the roof of his mouth. He offers a slight smile, though his eyes convey a sadness, like a boat drifting along the sea, with no passengers, the ashes of the fallen embedded in its floor.

“Harry—” Draco whispers, as his fingers trail along the center of his abdomen, his round nails pushing into the patches of wiry hairs just above his belly button. “Don’t go.”

“Where would I go, Draco?”

“Don’t leave again. I can’t —”

“Hey—” Harry pulls Draco toward him, reveling in the feeling of his soft flesh against the calloused pads of his fingers. “I’m not planning on leaving.”

“Don’t lie to me, Harry. You always were a terrible liar.”

Harry sighs before threading his fingers through Draco’s hair. “It was too much. That night. You. The morning sun streaming through the trees. The memories were eating me alive. Ten years, Draco. It’s not enough time.”

“There’s never enough time,” Draco murmurs against Harry’s collarbone. “And you—” Draco looks up then, a strand of his golden-blond hair falling over his eye. “You’re everywhere. In the pages of the books that I read. Cocooned in the cracks of the cobblestone sidewalk beneath my feet, in the warm eyes of strangers. I’ve lived with you, Harry, for over half my life. You’re inescapable. You always have been. Do you know how maddening that is?”

Harry swallows, reaching out to touch the fabric of Draco’s shirt. He feels Draco’s heavy sigh against his palm and begins working the buttons open, haphazardly.

“I’m sorry,” he mouths, fingers tracing the scar etched into Draco’s chest. He feels his lungs expand, confident enough to speak. “I am, Draco. I wanted to fix everything. I wanted you, even then. I was so frustrated, and angry — at Voldemort, at Dumbledore, at you, at myself. I hunted him down, for months. I ran, I fought. I’ve been groomed to face death my entire life. I don’t know how to do anything else. How to be anything else.”

Harry shifts as Draco’s mouth presses against his ribs, his shallow breaths seep into Harry’s skin and settle in his bones.

Draco’s fingers entwine with his own, and returns the tender squeeze he receives. They lay side by side in the dark, as they had all those years ago, their hands resting against Draco’s chest. Silence, heavy with the promise of sleep, surrounds them.

Draco lifts his head slightly, burrowing himself in the curve of Harry’s neck, basking in the sweet scent of almond against his skin.

“Please say something, Draco.”

Draco sighs against Harry’s neck, as a murmured cadence begins to fill the vacant space of his room.

And the places on your body have no names.
You are what's immense about the night.
And our clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.

Harry kisses the corner of Draco’s mouth before turning away and pulling Draco flush against his back, finally succumbing to the darkness.

By the time Harry finally wakes, he’s drenched in sweat. His pupils are nearly blown, and the taste of blood is sour in his mouth. He feels fingertips digging into his bicep and manages to yank free, before curling in on himself. His throat is raw and everything feels so heavy. This is what it feels like to live.

“Harry,” Draco says, though it comes out as broken cry. “Come back. It’s Draco. I’ve got you. It’s okay. Please.”

Harry’s shallow breathing is the only sound in the room, echoing off of the walls, settling into the floorboards. He tenses as Draco reaches out and begins to comb thin fingers through his dark hair.

“Harry. I’m here. You’re safe.”

“Draco,” Harry murmurs, his voice raw.

“It’s all right, Harry. Look at me.”

Harry shifts against the mattress and turns to face Draco. He places his palm against Draco’s chest and blinks, astonished that this is real.

“I watched your father murder you. Because you refused to kill me. I was alone in the forest, my screams echoed off the trees. The light left your eyes, and you vanished.”

“Christ, Harry.”

“Don’t leave. Please don’t leave me. I can’t take it, Draco.”

Harry burrows himself in Draco’s embrace, his lips resting against Draco’s neck.

“I won’t. And even if I did, you’d follow me. You always have.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be. Try to sleep.”

A violet pink haze streams through the window, mouthing softly at Draco and Harry’s skin. Harry shifts, half-dazed, his head resting against the thin slashes etched on Draco’s chest. He smells of fresh mint with a hint of almond, Harry’s scent lingering against his skin. A warmth blooms in Harry’s chest as he presses his lips to Draco’s scars.

“Mmmm,” Draco hums, shifting onto his side to face Harry.

Harry smiles against Draco’s skin, the vibration of his voice making Harry’s lips tingle.

“I’m still here.”

“Yes, I noticed.” Draco pauses, pulling back to look at Harry before he asks the question he isn’t sure he wants the answer to. “Harry,” Draco murmurs, propped up on his elbow, “how often do you have those nightmares?”

Harry sighs, meeting Draco’s eyes reluctantly. “Every so often.” His confession is quiet, and a hint of color blooms against his cheeks. He lowers his eyes, and knows that Draco sees right through him. Silence settles in the space between their bodies. “A few times a week.”

Draco places his fingers under Harry’s chin, tilting it upward, forcing him to meet his gaze. “Are you taking any potions?”

Harry shakes his head, dropping his eyes once more.

“I haven’t taken a potion since sixth year.”

Draco lifts his palm to Harry’s cheek, and waits for the answer to his silent question.

“Snape’s book. I messed with things I knew nothing about.”

Draco’s hand drops from his face. He scurries away, flinging his legs off of the bed, making a bee-line out of his room to the right, for the loo.

“Draco?” Harry calls out, confused. He breathes, once, before everything clicks into place. He buries his face in the pillow, trying not to heave. It smells like Draco. Harry shuts his eyes, reveling in the darkness surrounding him. There’s a certain serenity in silence.

Nearly twenty minutes pass before Harry opens his eyes, his head still resting on Draco’s pillow. His throat is raw and scratchy when he calls out Draco’s name. There’s no answer. Seeds of fear begin to bloom in his stomach, causing him to nearly throw himself from the bed.

He grabs his glasses from the nightstand before shuffling out of Draco’s room. “Draco?” he calls again. A sudden chill washes over him, and it takes a moment before he realizes it’s a draft. A window must be open. He makes a sharp right turn, his pulse quickening with each passing second, the silence holding Draco’s home captive. He stops at the end of the hallway, and steps into the loo.

“Draco?” he murmurs, hoping for an inkling of a response. He steps forward, a shiver coursing up his spine as his bare feet graze the cold tile. Sunlight streams through the small window adjacent to him, and he wonders how Draco looks in the mornings, stripped of everything except skin, bathed in sunlight. Despite all of this, he wants that, even still. Sniffling from the back of the room brings him back to the present. He holds the fabric of the gray curtain between his fingers and pulls it back.

Draco is sitting against the wall, his knees pulled to his chest, covering his face with his eyes. His sniffles are quiet and muffled. Harry feels his heart shattering in his chest, the jagged pieces tied together with twine, crashing against the hollow depths below.

“Draco. Please,” Harry whispers, “come with me. It’s all right.”

When Draco lifts his head to meet Harry’s eyes, a sharp pain seizes Harry’s throat. It feels all too familiar, like Nagini’s body curled around him, determined to suck the very last breath from his body, agonizingly slow.

Draco sighs, and Harry watches his eyes harden, watches him become Malfoy right before his eyes. “Don’t you see? It will never be all right. I’ll atone for these things for the rest of my life.”

“Draco, don’t. We all made mistakes. We were so young.”

“No, Harry. I nearly murdered Dumbledore. My schoolmates. Your friends. Myself. Those weren’t simply mistakes.”

“You were trying to survive.”

“So were you! And you did. Honorably.”

“Is that what this is about? Honor? Because what honor is there in watching your best mate’s brother die? Or Remus? Tonks? Dumbledore? Snape? What was it for, Draco? If I’d have been more careful, if I’d have given myself up, earlier …”

“Oh, stop. You’ve no idea, Harry, what I —”

“Bloody tell me, then, Draco! And don’t you dare say you’re over it, because it’s clear that you aren’t. We aren’t. Let me help you. Talk to me, for Merlin’s sake.”

“You can’t help me, Harry. Don’t you see? It’s supposed to be this way. It always was.”

Harry crouches down and crawls into the small corridor until he’s kneeling in front of Draco. He reaches out, placing his hands firmly on Draco’s thin shoulders. “Draco.” Harry sighs, though he’s on the verge of sobbing, whether from frustration or utter sadness, he can’t be sure. “You’re not making sense. Come on, let’s take a walk. We can talk about it.”

“I don’t want to take a walk, Harry.”

“But —”

The rest of Harry’s sentence is cut off by Draco’s lips pressing against his own. This kiss is different from the others they’ve shared, there’s nothing sensual or gentle about it. It’s rough and unrelenting, all teeth and tongue. Draco’s hands seem to be everywhere, pressed against Harry’s chest, pushing him back into the wall, making his back arch involuntarily. Harry can’t catch his breath. Something about this feels wrong. He reluctantly pulls away, panting.

“Draco, we can’t.”

Draco stares at him, bewildered.

“You didn’t seem terribly opposed moments ago.”

“I don’t want it to be like this. We need to talk, Draco.”

“I already told you, Harry,” Draco grits, his words venomous. “I don’t feel like talking.”

“What do you feel like doing, then? Burying your head in the pages of your books?”

Draco cuts his eyes at Harry. “Oh, that’s rich, coming from you.”

Harry sighs, running his fingers through his hair. Several pieces stick up, and he knows Draco likely finds it terribly unsightly, but he can’t bring himself to care. It seems almost poetic, Harry’s black nest against the white tile, like the Battle of Hogwarts — chaotic with temperamental magic before giving way to a silent nothingness, with no concept of time or space. Harry has the strangest urge to laugh. Instead, he throws his hands up in defeat.

“I guess I’ll be going, then. Since you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to talk to me.”

“Go, then. It is, after all, what the great Harry Potter does best.”

Harry turns to Disapparate before Draco speaks once more.

“Harry. Before you go …” Draco whispers, his voice broken, “there’s something on my nightstand. Take it with you, would you?”

Harry curses himself for staying a moment longer than he ought to. Just like last time. He steps through the threshold and walks back to Draco’s bedroom, wondering how he’s ended up here. Why he’d ever want to leave. He does what Draco asks of him, clutches the object tightly to his ribs and Disapparates, unable to vanquish the look of defeat in Draco’s eyes from his mind.

Harry never quite understood how others — namely Ron and Hermione — found Grimmauld Place rather … curious. Harry has always been comforted by its weathered state, as if it constructed itself for every stage of his life. It reminds him so much of the cupboard under the stairs, of his childhood home in Godric’s Hollow, held up by the mere memory of his mum and dad, the last embers of their magic pulsing through each board and crack, sealing it once more with their final breaths. In this moment, he longs for the familiarity of Grimmauld Place, to reign in his tears as the dust from the mantles fill his lungs, to run his fingers across the skeletal mobile suspended above Sirius’s bed, to feel some semblance of the boy he used to be.

The tiny place he’s renting in East London is structured much the same, with its creaking floorboards, kitschy wizarding gadgets and moving photographs that line nearly every empty space. And yet, it feels hollow, nothing more than a mausoleum of memories. As if he’s living someone else’s life. He makes his way to the back of the house, four walls surrounding a modest, unmade bed, the sheets a wrinkled reflection of his silhouette. He opens the window closest to his bed just a crack before settling back against the mattress and removing his glasses haphazardly, tossing them onto a poor excuse for a nightstand. A soft breeze blows through and knocks his tiny silver knight piece from the sill before enveloping his room. His chest tightens as he sucks in a breath — it smells like Draco. Clean, sharp, full of unsuspecting warmth and a hint of sweetness.

As he succumbs to sleep, he wonders if this is what Snape felt like, for all those years, finding so many things he desired in another, only to be shackled by grief and fear. He swallows down his scream, and the world goes dark.

When Harry wakes, he’s thrashing against a black abyss. The trees out front block the tiny sliver of moonlight longing to peak through. His screams pierce through the silence, and he swears he feels Remus’s hands curling around his biceps, holding him steady as they watch Sirius vanish into a silver chasm. His fists clench in the sweat-soaked sheets beneath him. For the first time in five years, he longs for his wand. The desire to Incendio every lasting memory, every piece of himself — of the boy everyone expected him to be — sounds more appealing by the minute. He sits up, tipping his head back against the wall. He runs his fingers through his hair in an attempt to quiet his mind, though the voice he hears, overwhelmingly, is that of Umbridge, her hushed, clipped tone laced with sugary venom: Deep down, you know you deserve to be punished, don’t you, Mr. Potter?

He squeezes his eyes shut, pushing himself from the bed, clutching his glasses. Carelessly, he places them against the bridge of his nose and revels in the feeling of his eyes fluttering open. The room doesn’t seem as dark now, despite him stumbling about. The drafty, dingy corridor reminds him all too much of Godric’s Hollow all those years ago, his right fist clenched at his side, gripping a pocket of air as it slithers through his fingers as he blinks, the callouses embedded in his fingers the only reminder that he ever owned a wand at all.

He staggers into the dimly lit kitchen and pours himself a glass of water. With his hands sprawled out against the sink, he’s reminded of Draco all those years ago, how they nearly murdered each other over matters they knew nothing of. He allows himself to fall victim to the steady lull of running water as his mind begins to wander. He wonders if Draco has trouble sleeping through the night without someone beside him, if he stumbles out of bed, coated in sweat. If his hair clings to his nape, and whether or not he finds it maddening when strands kiss his pale lashes in moonlight’s soft glow.

Harry allows himself a small smile, shivering as he feels a cool sensation wash over his fingers. He steps back and nearly drops the glass in the sink as he realizes he’s let it overflow. He turns the tap off with more force than necessary and chances a look over his shoulder. His eyes land on the small coffee table by the lone window, embroidered with cobwebs. Draco’s book. He runs his fingers through his hair once, before picking up his glass and walking toward the small table. Without thinking, he clutches the book to his ribs, settles in the small gray chair, and waits for the sun to announce itself.

Dawn greets Harry like a slow burn, navy blues melting into pale yellows and hazy oranges. His eyes follow the words on each page of parchment, and though he doesn’t quite understand how these words are strung together, dangling from some alternate universe, he feels himself getting swept away. He’s astonished to find pieces of Draco in these pages, veiled in an intimacy that Harry wants for himself. A smile blooms against his lips as he places the book on the side table, allowing his eyes to flutter closed once more, bathed in the certainty of sunlight.

Harry winces as he wakes, shifting his neck to one side, reveling in tension’s release. The sun hangs low in the sky, barely kissing the trees. His muscles tremble as he stretches, sending a jolt of warmth to the base of his spine. He decides to bask in the glow of morning a bit longer and opens the window slightly. A cloud of dust envelops him, making him sneeze, the force knocking his glasses askew. He grabs his empty glass from the nightstand and places it in the sink. The faintest sound of ruffling parchment lingers against his earlobe as he shuffles back to his chair and picks up Draco’s book once more. His calloused fingers grip the top corner of the page that the wind blew backward, and he begins to read aloud to himself, a quiet murmur drifting along the morning breeze.

"I am timid,
Because falling into you
Means falling out of him
And I had not prepared for that.”

He reads it aloud once more, pausing at the end of each line, surely an action that would cause Draco to cringe. The thought makes him smile … laugh, almost. There’s nothing intimate or seductive about these words slipping awkwardly from Harry’s lips, but it feels as though they were meant for him. From the way eyes flutter closed and a slight tingle settles in the tips of his fingers; as he settles into a cadenced rhythm, he feels as if he’s regained the control he’d lost long ago, perhaps found something he’s never had. The more he reads, the more Draco’s earlier words echo in his mind:

“There is something quite fascinating about finding pieces of yourself hidden within the work of another. It’s curious, how a stranger could know me so well.”

Hours later, Harry wakes in darkness, rain’s incessant tapping against the window, steadying his breathing. Rolling over, he grabs Draco’s book from the nightstand, not bothering to reach for his glasses. He cradles the book in his hands, his finger tracing the black embossed lettering on the cover. Despite winter’s chill, a warmth seeps into his bones and slithers down to the curved flesh of his toes. If he wants to understand Draco, to know him, all he has to do is read the words embedded in the pages of these books. Draco’s given him the one thing no one else has: a choice. His eyes flutter closed, an all-too-willing victim to rain’s rhythmic pull.

Morning seeps through the trees, bathing Harry’s room in a soft silver mist. He wakes slowly, in a haze, surprised to find Draco’s book settled beneath his chin. He places the book on his nightstand and stretches, the soft kiss of the rain against his window threatening to seduce him. He lays sprawled out for a while, running his fingers through his hair, occasionally brushing the back of his hand against his forehead. He knows he’s prolonging the inevitable, so much so that he’s certain he can hear the hiss of warm blood pumping through his veins. Eventually, he grows bored and begins to dress. A chill envelops the air surrounding him, seeping down into his bones, ever-present but tolerable. He opts for wool socks and scuffed Auror boots, paired with black denims and a soft ivory jumper. His lower-lip rests between his teeth as he grabs a coat before thinking better of it. With a final rake of his hands through his hair, he sets forth onto the street as raindrops dissolve into his black nest, releasing their final breaths against his pale skin.

The bookshop is familiar, as if he’s seen it a hundred times, pictures weaving together like ribbons against his skin in the dark. But it feels … alive. The floors throb with the click of each patron’s foot, pages of parchment kiss the next, led by a reader’s careful thumb. The sound reminds him of Draco’s whispers against his neck as they lay together, tangled in the gray sheets, all those days ago. His eyes scan the bright yellow shelves incuriously, shifting across title after title until the words become muddled and the slightest ache seeps into his temple. His shoulders rise and fall with a heavy thud as he sighs. He pushes his glasses against the bridge of his nose, the alcove in the corner by the window reflected in his lenses. A head of golden-blond hair is partially shielded by a small cover of a book, a loose strand nearly kissing the top corner of its pages. Harry shoves his hands in the pockets of his denims, turns, and with an exhale, steps forward.

His feet are heavy, like stones against the worn hardwood floor. He’s half expecting Draco to shoot him a frustrated look without pulling his book an inch from his nose. It never comes. He continues his advance as an all-too-familiar tingle settles in his fingertips.

“Draco?” Harry asks, his voice heavy with uncertainty.

Draco inhales sharply, and Harry feels its pain in his bones, shackling him to the spot.

“If you’re expecting an invitation, Potter, you’ll be waiting a while.”

“Are we honestly doing this now? Draco …”

“I’ve no idea what you’re suggesting, Potter. I’m merely reading.”

Harry mumbles under his breath. “Merely being an insufferable git is more like it.”

He flinches when Draco slams his book shut and yanks it down to his lap.

“No, Harry,” Draco grits, his teeth clenched. “You don’t get to come in here after running from me and dictate how this,” he gestures wildly between the two of them, “is going to go.”

“Tell me then, Draco.” Harry murmurs, fighting the urge to cringe as his words from days ago haunt the corners of his mind. “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

Harry studies Draco’s frame, hoping to see an inkling of movement beneath the fabric of the henley clinging to Draco’s skin. It’s a deep forest green, like evergreens that canopied them as they lay beneath the earth all those years ago. The place that reminded him he was alive.
Harry’s breath catches as Draco shifts, making a tiny bit of space for Harry to settle beside him.

“Sit.”

Harry exhales as his body brushes against Draco’s, reveling in the familiarity of sitting together. He looks at Draco knowingly and feels the wondrously fragile moment he surrenders.

A smile blooms against his lips as Draco thumbs the book open once more, his voice a quiet echo cocooned in their haven.

“My lover’s voice calls
to others in his restless sleep.
The venetian blinds slice streetlights,
Light coils around my waist and my lover’s neck
Dividing him into hundredths.
Would these fractions make me happier?”

Harry fights the temptation to close his eyes as Draco reads and turns to face him. His eyes are trained on Draco’s, slightly veiled through his long, pale lashes. There’s beauty in the way he lingers on each word, as if he’s trying to unearth lost pieces of himself, excavating them from the ruins sealed by the scars on his chest. Scars Harry birthed. His gaze travels downward, solely focused on the subtle movement of his lips, the way they part just enough for the words to tumble forth, dripping with vulnerability, their freefall anchored in valor.

Silence settles in the sliver of space between them, and it’s Harry who speaks first.

“Draco …” he whispers, his voice cracked and raw, “walk with me?”

He’s always been terrified of the waiting. Of laying himself open, his body nothing more than a home for his ghosts.

Draco pulls his finger from where it traces the parchment and shuts the book silently. He stands, one hip angled toward Harry, the other, to his alcove as he tucks the book back into the shelf above his head.

Harry shoves his hands in the pockets of his denims once more as he steps in front of Draco and, for the first time, leads him out of the shop.

The cobblestone streets are bathed in rainwater, and the clouds are low enough to kiss the barren branches of the trees as they walk past. The significance of this moment is not lost on Harry. He knows all Draco has relinquished. He tries to speak, whether to fill the silence or quell his rising tide of nerves, he can’t be sure.

“Sometimes, silence isn’t meant to be filled.”

“How did you …”

“You forget how well I know you, Harry.”

A blush creeps from Harry’s toes to his cheeks, and suddenly, he doesn’t feel so cold.

The moment they step into Harry’s place, the ghosts that mold themselves to fit the empty spaces of his flat vanish. Their vacant stares and sharp, hollowed mouths nothing more than a memory. Harry clears his throat, silently cursing himself for failing to tidy up.

“Apologies for the mess. It’s um—”

“It fits.” Draco smiles, a mischievous glint reaching his eyes, making the dull light that creeps through the window seem less so.

“Have your laugh. It’s not Grimmauld Place, but …”

“You lived there?”

“For a while. After Sirius passed. Hermione, Ron and I stayed, too, before the war. I’ve only been back a few times.”

“Still the same, I take it?”

“The same?”

“I visited a handful of times, as a boy.”

Harry bites his lip, then manages a nod, ignoring the throbbing pain of betrayal threatening to bloom in his chest.

“The tapestry, Harry.”

“Oh … right.”

Harry shakes the thought from his mind, willing himself to stay focused. He steps toward the sink, his fingers gripping the lip of the counter. A tremor ripples through his shoulders, and the sound of his heavy breathing fills the room. And to think, he was doing so well.

“Harry—” Draco’s voice is quiet and even, permeating through the heavy weight bearing down on them both.

Harry goes still as Draco curls his hand around his forearm. “Look at me.”

Harry’s eyes catch the reflection of the dark clouds in Draco’s glasses as he turns, his lower lip pinned between his teeth. The air around them has shifted once more, tiny particles floating through the dusty air thrumming with heat and magic. He pushes his glasses against the bridge of his nose.

Looking at Draco makes Harry feel like the world has been tilted on its axis, as if he’s eleven all over again, standing awkwardly on the stool inside of Madam Malkin’s. He longs to burrow himself inside the endless realm of possibility reflected in Draco’s eyes. He places his hand against Draco’s chest, to lose himself in the cadence of his breathing, sure and steady, like the tide as it kisses the sand of Shells Cottage, and the sun fades into oblivion.

After a moment, Draco’s voice fills the hollow room, drowning out the soft whistle of wind against the trees.

“You are a hero
For living from that moment
To this one. You never need to apologize
For how you chose to survive.”

Harry leans in and kisses Draco, fighting back a smile as the last syllable lands against his lips. He allows himself to get lost in the lingering taste of mint on Draco’s lips, reveling in the spark that ignites at the base of his spine. He steps backward as Draco pushes tentatively into his space, releasing a groan against Draco’s lips each time he tries to lick into Draco’s mouth and finds himself denied. Losing has never tasted as sweet.

Harry hisses as Draco pushes him back against the counter. He bites back the whimper that threatens to escape his lips as Draco pulls back. It takes a moment for Harry to recognize that Draco is laughing. His nearly-perfect glasses are knocked askew, and he’s completely flushed, save for the blush coloring his cheeks. He looks so much like the boy Harry fell in love with all those years ago that it hurts.

“What?” Harry asks, in desperate to fill the heavy space between them.

“I want to do this properly, Harry.”

Harry exhales, frustrated. He wonders if Draco will ever cease to be maddening, with his love of eccentric poetry and his just-perfectly groomed golden-blond hair?

“Whatever you say, Draco. Just, please … we’ve waited long enough.”

“Merlin. I never thought I’d hear the great Harry Potter beg for anything. Especially from me.” Draco’s tone is even, but there’s a glint in his eye that reminds Harry so much of his schoolboy rival, sans sneer and rancour.

He knows now, that this — the thrill, the misguided dangers they placed on each other’s shoulders — is what kept him alive, then.

“I’ll keep begging if I have to, Draco. I just … I’m sorry, all right? I don’t want to do any of this without you anymore.”

“I didn’t give you a good enough reason to stay.”

Harry’s breath hitches as Draco takes his hand and leads them through the drafty hallway that seems to float by him, like the clouds he drifted through on his broom all those years ago.

Draco pulls Harry into his chilly room, with his unmade bed and bare walls.

“I wasn’t ready to stay,” Harry whispers, his fingers trailing along the thin fabric of Draco’s henley.

Draco steps into Harry’s space, nearly closing the distance between them, his breath ghosting against the rose-colored flesh of Harry’s lips.

“And now?”

“If you have to ask …”

Harry moans as Draco closes the distance between them. Draco’s fingertips press against Harry’s hips as he licks into his mouth, searching for open wounds to heal. He’s desperate to feel Draco everywhere, though Draco seems determined to take his time. As if time, and they themselves, are infinite.

Draco pulls away when Harry whimpers against his lips.

“Too many clothes.”

Draco lifts his glasses from his face and places them on Harry’s nightstand.

“Harry,” Draco murmurs, “I’m going to take my time. I want to watch you fall apart, completely breathless at my hands. I want to delight in the shiver that kisses my spine upon hearing my name tumble from your lips on a loop. I’m going to show you what it means to stay.”

Harry swallows. All at once, the whole world is blurry.

Draco reaches for the hem of Harry’s jumper and pulls it up swiftly, revealing a trail of wiry black hairs just below his torso and disappearing into the fabric of his denims. Draco’s groan makes Harry’s spine tingle. Before Harry can speak, he’s fallen into the mattress and Draco’s mouth is against his neck, tongue sweeping over his pulse point. He smirks as Harry shivers against him before beginning his descent, planting open-mouthed kisses against pale skin.

Harry whimpers as Draco pulls away from his stomach just above his navel. He blushes as Draco looks up at him, reveling in the warmth flowing through his veins at Draco’s breathy chuckle. He swallows heavily as Draco’s palms curve around his hips, fingers gripping the fabric of his denims and pulling them down in one swift motion. Harry bends down to untie his boots when he feels Draco’s fingers push into his thighs.

“Harry … ”

Draco leans forward, gives Harry a warm smile and rests his hand against his cheek.

Harry nods, and Draco’s hand drops to his the laces on his shoes. The way his fingers untie the knots with such ease and precision is enough to hypnotize Harry, and he knows, now, that he wants this, always. He wants Saturday mornings, sprawled out on a bed in the countryside, the both of them tangled together, covered in nothing but a sheet and bathed in the soft glow of morning. He can’t understand, still, how he deserves it.

By the time he regains his focus, Draco’s manages to get him out of his boots and divest him of his denims. Draco’s standing above him, a strand of hair falling into his eyes. Harry moves to the head of the bed, relishing in the feeling of the cool pillow against his neck, his body pulsing with heat. He’s doing exactly what Draco wants him to do — watch.

Draco toes out of his oxfords, pushing them flush against the nightstand before he meets Harry’s gaze once more, unfastening his trousers and letting them fall to the floor. Harry can’t tear his eyes away, doing his best to ignore the warmth that blooms in his stomach at the sound of Draco’s bare feet against the floor. How easy it would be, to fall into this routine.

Harry groans as Draco makes even slower work of removing his shirt, revealing pale, smooth skin, save for the scars tattooed on his chest. Draco licks his lips and Harry nearly loses his mind. He forces himself to keep his eyes open. He wants these moments to settle against his ribcage, to grow roots and bloom.

“Draco, you …”

“Shhh, Harry.”

The bed dips and Draco’s on his knees. Harry can’t find the words to ask for what he wants, though Draco seems to know. He pulls himself upward and hovers above Harry, his arms braced on either side.

Harry trails his fingers over Draco’s scars, wincing when Draco shivers. He wants to pull back, but he can’t. It’s more, this time, and Harry can’t reign in the tears that prickle in his eyes. When Draco kisses him, Harry sighs into his mouth. Draco tastes like mint and winter air, and he’s giving Harry everything — the answers to his unasked questions that plague the depths of his mind when he’s alone in the dark.

“Draco,” Harry whispers, fighting the urge to look away. “I’ve never — at least — not like this.”

The silence stretches between them, and Harry wonders if Draco will ever leave. He feels darkness settle against the walls of his room as raindrops kiss the windowpane.

“It’s all right, Harry. I won’t hurt you.” Harry shivers as Draco strokes his cheek, his soft whisper dissolving against Harry’s bottom lip. Harry removes his glasses, placing them on the nightstand beside Draco’s. It’s all the confirmation Draco needs. He makes quick work of removing Harry’s pants.

“Okay?”

Harry nods.

“Merlin, look at you,” Draco whispers. Harry could fall apart without being touched.

Harry gasps as Draco’s palm, slick with lube, curls around his cock. Soon, Draco finds a steady rhythm, and Harry’s eyes flutter closed. He holds his lower lip between his teeth, arching his back at the spark of arousal that shoots through him. He swears he’s done for until he feels Draco’s tongue sweep across his slit. His thighs tremble as Draco takes him into his mouth, a little at a time, strands of hair kissing his lashes as he moves. He pulls off Harry with a pop before beginning again, taking him deeper each time until Harry’s writhing against him, fists clenched in his gray sheets that match Draco’s eyes.

“Draco, I can’t.” Harry whimpers.

Draco releases Harry, the pop echoing throughout the dark room.

“I’m not finished with you yet. It’s only fair for me to show you all you’ve missed.”

Harry tugs at Draco’s forearm, eliciting a smirk from his lips. Harry moans when Draco licks into his mouth. He tastes himself on Draco’s tongue, all salt and warmth. He shifts his hips upward to feel Draco against him and releases a frustrated whine when Draco pushes him down and pulls away.

“Please, Draco. I want ….”

Draco sucks at Harry’s neck, licking the curve of his adam’s apple. Harry shivers as Draco’s whisper settles against his jaw.

“Tell me, Harry.”

“I want to feel you. Everywhere. Always wanted this.”

Draco kisses him one last time, slow and deep. Harry savors his kiss, as if Draco is the life force for the vines wrapping themselves around his ribs.

The bed shifts as Draco reaches for his wand tucked in the sole of his oxfords. He mutters an unfamiliar spell that leaves his fingers slick with lube. Harry holds his bottom lip between his teeth; his eyes glued to Draco’s movements, massaging the liquid between his thin, pale fingers.

Draco waits for permission, a shaky exhale tumbling from his lips at Harry’s nod.

Harry holds his breath as he feels Draco bend his knees, and the air shifts around them. A chill seeps through the window, but Harry’s skin is on fire.

“Try to keep still, at first. I’ll go slow. If I hurt you …” Draco’s voice is firm but quietly tapers off and dissolves into the sheet below them.

“You won’t.”

Draco sighs, biting back a chuckle. His cheeks are flushed, and strands of hair are falling against his temple. He looks otherworldly.

Draco moves to the foot of the bed and spreads Harry’s arse open. He traces Harry’s hole with his index finger, making Harry jerk beneath him.

“Christ, Draco.”

“You have no idea. ” Draco’s voice is warm, dripping with lust.

Harry sucks in a breath, biting back a broken whine. Draco pushes into him tentatively, with one finger, before finding his rhythm. It’s the sweetest burn, like that first shot of Firewhisky on an empty stomach, the way it slithers down and coats the flesh below his navel, leaving him feeling dazed and loose.

Harry moans as he feels Draco retreat. He’s struggling to find words to ask for more. It’s too much to imagine himself alone, in the dark corners of his room, skeleton’s echoes trapped in his abdomen.

“Merlin, you should see yourself.”

A blush creeps up Harry’s neck as he takes his bottom lip between his teeth, waiting to see how much more Draco is willing to give.

A groan falls from Harry’s lips as Draco pushes into him once more, this time with two fingers, working him open slowly, maintaining a steady rhythm. Harry moans as beads of sweat fall from his nape and slithers down his spine before curving around his arse and dissolving. His hips jerk in response.

“Stay still. So perfect, Harry. So good. Everything I ever …”

By the time Draco withdraws his fingers, Harry’s writhing underneath him, muttering unintelligibly.

After a moment, Harry comes back to himself; a thin sheen of sweat clings to his pale skin and when he speaks, his voice is broken. “Please, Draco. Let me see you.”

Harry’s eyes are glued to the movement of Draco’s throat as he swallows.

Draco rids himself of his pants and crawls in the space between Harry’s legs once more. Harry’s vision is blurry, but he feels Draco everywhere: brushing against his thighs, fingertips ghosting against his hips. He pushes himself down toward Draco to alleviate the torture of waiting, wanting. It may never be enough.

Harry hisses the moment Draco’s cock brushes his own, sending a forceful tremor through his body, pushing him nearer to his release.

He moans as Draco hovers above him, licking into his mouth.

“Harry,” he murmurs, “always wanted this.”

Harry pulls Draco deeper into the kiss, desperate for some type of friction, the whisper of impatience becoming too much to ignore. It’s then, of course, that Draco pulls away.

Harry watches him, resting on his heels at the foot of Harry’s bed, looking more than a little disheveled, the strands of hair falling against his face slick with sweat.

“Wrap your legs around my waist.”

Harry does as he’s told, and holds his breath, waiting for Draco to push into him, for his world to go black.

He shivers as Draco lines himself up against his arse. His jaw tightens and he sucks in a breath when the head of Draco’s cock pushes in, agonizingly slowly, stretching him open. A stilted moan escapes his lips as Draco pulls out, the head of his cock settled against Harry’s hole.

They stay like that for a moment, close enough to each other to feel, the air dripping with desire.

When Draco pushes in again, Harry grasps his hips, digging his jagged nails into Draco’s pale flesh, caught between the comfort of staying and possibility of moving forward. Harry whimpers as Draco begins to move, slowly at first, his hands curled around Harry’s hips, holding him in place.

“More, Draco. Please.”

Harry sighs, his lungs deflating as Draco thrusts into him more steadily. He’s fighting the urge to close his eyes, and forces himself to look at Draco. The way he moves is hypnotic, and Harry swears he can feel the beginnings of magic thrumming through his veins, as if their connection was the catalyst for Harry’s resurrection.

Draco’s name tumbles from Harry’s lips in a continuous stream of sound, laced with reverie, his body trembling with release. Harry shivers as Draco slows his rhythm, though he can feel himself clenching around Draco’s cock, pushing him toward the edge. Draco follows him shortly after, coming with a groan, pulling himself on top of Harry, kissing patches of his abdomen languidly, sucking the remnants of Harry’s release into his mouth, swallowing it down as he reaches Harry’s lips.

Harry grins against Draco’s mouth as he tastes himself, combing his fingers through Draco’s hair before Draco rolls off of him, grabs his wand, and cleans them up.

Harry settles into Draco, mouthing at his neck lazily.

“I figured you’d be one to cuddle.” Draco rolls his eyes, though Harry can feel the smile against his lips.

Draco’s fingers curl around Harry’s waist as he succumbs to the darkness.

Harry wakes in the haze of dawn, his chin resting in the hollow of Draco’s neck, their feet tangled beneath the sheets. He’s warm and familiar, like the diminutive whisper of spring lodged between bare winter branches, patiently waiting to take its first breath. He wonders if there’s ever been such a thing as death, or if one simply lives on, in the most unexpected of places. Draco’s warmth seduces him into sleep once more.

By the time he wakes, the sun is cocooned between the clouds, and Draco’s hands are carding through his hair. Harry’s eyes flutter open. Draco is looking at him with such reverie that it makes him ache.

“You stayed.”

Draco smiles, slow and warm. “So did you.”

“Where else would I go?”

“You’re Harry,” Draco drawls, “you’d have found some place to be.”

Harry laughs as Draco shifts beneath the sheets.

“Hand me my glasses, would you?”

Harry swallows as he places the frames against his cheekbones, pushing them firmly against the bridge of his nose. His fingers trace the scars on Draco’s chest, the moment too heavy for him to meet Draco’s eyes.

“The book you lent me … I finished it.”

Draco’s hands card through Harry’s hair once more before he speaks. His voice is soft, yet, heavy with uncertainty.

“And?”

“Your body is a map I know every inch of
And if anyone else
Were to kiss me, all they would taste
Is your name.”

His voice trails off, and his fingers cease tracing Draco’s scars. He feels Draco go still for a moment, a tinge of panic seizing his lungs, terrified he’s said the wrong thing.

“Harry,” Draco whispers, “do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

Dusk is seducing the sky by the time they make their way out of Harry’s flat, stepping out onto the cobblestone street. The air is cool, littered with the promise of spring, its sweet kiss lingering against the nape of their necks. Harry revels in the warmth of Draco’s hand in his, doing his best to ignore the pull of Apparition as Draco leads him into the unknown.

When Harry opens his eyes, his glasses are askew. He’s surrounded by an all-too-familiar scent and the earth feels heavy beneath him. Draco’s fingers rest on his hips, tentative and warm, like a safety net if he should fall victim to the demons of his past once more.

“Draco …” Harry begins, holding the questions clawing at his tongue prisoner.

“Harry, when we were children, our world was full of possibility. As the years passed, the time for possibility dwindled, and then, the world turned upside down. To survive, we shed pieces of ourselves until we were nothing but hollow bodies, shackled to our pasts, living a half-life in a mausoleum of memories.”

“Last time …”

“I know.”

Harry steps out of Draco’s embrace and falls on the floor of the earth, in the center of where it all began. Where innocence was birthed, then ruthlessly murdered. If Harry listens closely, he can hear the whisper of innocence in the blades of grass, rising from the ashes. He can hear it in the whisper of the wind, in the steady stream of clouds hovering above them both. He settles into the earth as Draco shifts beside him. He reaches for Draco’s hand, allowing himself to live and die by the words that tumble from Draco’s lips:

In inceptum finis est.
In the beginning is the end.