“Bloody fucking cocked-up manky dry rot,” Hermione swore, her boot crashing down for the third time onto Harry’s shoulder. He did his best not to wince.
“Anchor beam’s still fine,” Malfoy said, cheerfully, from above. “And that’s not ladylike, darling.”
“Tell me to be ladylike again and you can enjoy fucking yourself with the bloody beam because it’s the only action you’ll be getting for the rest of your life,” Hermione said, taking a breath.
“We’ve got thirty two minutes, so you lot can work your marital issues about dry rot out in therapy,” Harry said. “Haul her up, Malfoy.”
“I’m working on it,” he said. “It’s not as if it’s my fault she weighs -“ He paused. “I’m sorry, it’s just all the dry rot. Carry on.”
“Excellent choice,” Hermione said. “Right. One more push, Harry?”
“Yes,” Harry said, gritting his teeth. He lifted, and by some miracle, Malfoy managed to haul her up through the opening in the rotted staircase.
“Coming up or watching the boathouse?” Malfoy said.
“Don’t be daft,” Hermione said. “Harry’s not working alone. Are you, Harry?”
“I was sort of contemplating it, really,” Harry said. “At this point, I think being murdered by a ghost would be sort of a nice change of pace. No more stomping around decrepit houses with you lot, no more paperwork, no walking in on my partner shagging Unspeakables on my desk…”
“That was the once,” Hermione protested. “And we weren’t –“
“And he probably liked it,” Malfoy said. “Potter, I think we can watch the docks from the window. I like our odds better here.”
“Sod it, fine,” Harry said, grabbing the hold on the climbing rope. “But both of you had better get me up there on the first try.”
It took four, and by the end of it, he was red-faced and cursing nearly as much as Hermione had been. Malfoy, who had gotten up the stairs before they’d collapsed, probably because the bloody house recognized him as some sort of pureblooded brethren, looked immaculate and like he hadn’t exerted any effort at all. Harry took some small consolation in the fact that Hermione was picking paint chips and splinters out of her braid.
“So, to clarify, we’ve got nearly no intelligence on what this thing is, just that it’s killed three people here in the last month. Apparently it might show up here or it might show up in the wanking boathouse, because no one seems to be able to report anything consistently, and there’s a better than outside chance we haven’t brought the right equipment,” Harry said. “Just to reiterate the level of stupidity here.”
“About like usual, yeah,” Hermione said. “Though I’m fairly certain I know who it is. Why were scorned witches always throwing themselves off balconies to drown in lakes, anyway? It’s ludicrous. One solid castrating hex and you’ve put paid to the whole thing. And what kind of witch drowns in this? It’s like a glorified bloody fish pond.”
“Yes, I’m aware, we hiked through the muck earlier because someone got the map wrong,” Harry said.
“It wasn’t wrong,” Malfoy said. “It was presumably quite a nice walk in the eighteen hundreds. I haven’t the faintest idea why they moved the lake, but it’s not as if I own the property.”
“No, it’s just singing disgusting love ballads to you at every bloody turn,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Hermione?”
“Lavinia Whitcomb, aged seventeen, suicide by drowning after a failed engagement. Given that she’s killed and appears to have an accurate physical manifestation, I hardly think we’re dealing with a wisp here, but beyond that, I haven’t the faintest,” Hermione said. “You ought to have read the file, Harry.”
“Bloody odd that it’s a suicide,” Malfoy said. “What on earth would she be sticking around for? We never see those.”
“Maybe someone drowned her,” Hermione said. “Or pushed her off the balcony into the lake. I appreciate the philosophical questions, Draco, but that’s for when we’re writing up the report.”
“Since when do you turn down philosophical questions, let alone from him,” Harry said.
“Since I’d like to get to bed before dawn and either this house hates muggleborns or we’re having an extremely unlucky night,” Hermione muttered.
“Former,” Malfoy said.
“Might have warned me before we fell through the stairs,” Hermione said.
“I’m not quite sure I could have foreseen the fact that the stairs -“ Malfoy said.
“So we could all stand here and engage in argumentative verbal foreplay all night, or we could set the bloody marks,” Harry said. “Who wants what?”
Ordinarily, he found Hermione and Malfoy vaguely charming, if unexpected. It wasn’t as if he and Malfoy been close, after Hogwarts, but Lucius had ended up in Azkaban and Narcissa had died of a wasting curse a few months after the last battle. It became rather clear that Draco hadn’t entirely been acting of his own volition, that parental pressure could cause you to do some idiotic things, and that he had absolutely no intention of continuing the charming traditions of his parents. Harry had never really figured out if the potted plant from Malfoy was actually an apology or an attempt to murder him with some strange sort of Devil’s Ivy, but it had seemed like a decent gesture, so he’d taken it at face value a decade or so ago. The philosophy seemed to have proved to be a reasonable method for dealing with Malfoy in general.
Malfoy wasn’t all that bad, but Harry had been forced to bring him along for every assignment for the past year. He’d also spent the evening stomping through swamp muck, squeezing in through a cellar window, having stairs collapse on him, and heading into something almost totally blind, which Harry hated at the best of times. And this was hardly the best of times. So the fact that the house was being charming just for Malfoy was a bit enraging.
Malfoy drummed his fingers on the windowsill, and Harry briefly paused to hope the entire mansion wasn’t about to cave in.
“North,” he decided. “Given all of it, I’ll probably be able to see her best, so you might as well put me on calling out. You two are better at weaving than I am.”
“West, you take East, Harry,” Hermione said, murmuring a point me spell at her wand, which spun to point to the lake. “Lovely, we’ll have to lay the trap with our backs to the boathouse. What do you want to spin?”
“Yew powder, something aquatic, and I’d think –“ Harry paused. “Am I the only one tasting that?”
“No,” Malfoy said. “It’s – what, like wine that’s gone spoiled from the metal in the cask?”
“Like ozone,” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “Haven’t seen that before.”
“Oh, delightful, novelty,” Harry said. “What do you think, Hermione, salt or silver?”
“We’ve got thread with silver wrapped in,” Hermione said. “Salt.” She took her bag off her shoulders and considered their kit. “Water hyacinth?”
“Forsythia,” Malfoy said, absently. “Don’t ask me why I think so. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“Well, two minutes to back out,” Harry said.
“Strongly considering it, actually,” Draco said. “As the person who’s supposed to decide if it’s too dangerous to proceed.”
“Lovely,” Harry said. “Nothing’s happening with the temperature or pressure.”
“We can’t get back down the bloody stairs in two minutes,” Hermione said. “Let’s just do it and get home.”
“Something is exceptionally wrong, and I don’t like it,” Malfoy repeated, still drumming his fingers. Harry paused to think about the number of times he’d seen Malfoy nervous. He wasn’t sure there had been any.
Malfoy was better at clairsentience than he or Hermione was, despite Hermione’s ongoing effort. He was a better clairvoyant too, something that Harry suspected had to do with the fact that he was a far better legilimens than anyone had ever suspected; if you were exceptional at reading the living, it seemed to follow that you’d be exceptional at reading the dead. For all that he largely made Harry want a very long session with the departmental punching bag followed by an incredibly stiff drink, he had to admit that Malfoy was the best with ghosts he’d ever seen. They wanted to tell him their secrets. They wanted to know him, to talk to him, to see if he could follow up on all his silver-tongued promises. Malfoy was an exceptional liar, so stone cold and straight faced that even the dead couldn’t see through it, and he’d saved them more times over the last year than Harry cared to admit. Which meant that whether he liked it or not, it was his job to keep Malfoy safe. He was the blunt instrument to Malfoy’s rapier wit and Hermione’s research and coaxing. Good auror, bad auror, best alternative, as Malfoy put it. Harry didn’t necessarily adore him. But he trusted him not to get them all killed.
“Malfoy,” Harry said, quietly. “Everything in my body is telling me that I need to move to the south mark. Is that a trap?”
“Eighty-twenty,” Malfoy said, then closed his eyes for a moment. “No. One hundred. Don’t move. Hermione, you need to light the spell thread now.”
“Now?” Hermione said. “But we’ve got two minutes.”
“Now,” Malfoy said, and she struck a match just as the ghost stepped through the wall, the marks beginning to burn into the floorboards as the thread sizzled away.
She was beautiful, in a coldly detached sort of way, frozen in time at age seventeen, the bloom of youth still bright across her cheeks. Ghosts usually weren’t so corporeal, and Harry paused, trying to think through the final pages of his manual, the theory section. He’d never seen anything look so real, with a faint dusting of something he couldn’t place that made him itch under his skin.
“Hello,” Malfoy said.
She turned to Hermione, looking her square in the face, and started to murmur in a low tone, so quiet Harry couldn’t even hear her in the dead silence of the night. Hermione looked confused for a moment, then suddenly radiant.
“Yes, of course,” she said, and it was only Harry’s sudden sharp grip on her wrist that kept her from stepping forward off the mark. She started to pull away, but Harry held fast.
“Potter, I think that’s a siren, and I think she’s about to try to seduce Hermione,” Malfoy said, flatly, almost detached. “She can’t hear us, she can only focus on one person at a time, but I have to snap Hermione out of it, because even both of us together aren’t going to be able to hold her on that mark for long. You’d better be able to weave this, because there isn’t another option.”
“Yes,” Harry said, a little hoarsely. Sirens weren’t ghosts you captured with three people – in fact, sirens weren’t really ghosts you captured at all, unless you were an entire division of, at minimum, Auror-Unspeakable trios with damn good knowledge of the site. “Same ingredients?”
“Blood thread,” Malfoy said. “Silver isn’t going to do it. And you’d better figure out a better binding agent than salt. Fast.”
“Right,” Harry said. “If you could just –“
Malfoy kicked Hermione’s kit toward him, vials scattering. Sometimes, if you could give a ghost what it wanted, it might dissipate on its own. But more often than not, ghosts weren’t particularly keen on letting go of the half-life they’d held on to for so long. The Ministry of Magic had borrowed the only tradition that seemed to have a portable bearing on laying the dead to rest and started weaving gris gris, gray for the area between life and death.
Contrary to popular opinion, most of the ghosts weren’t focused in objects or talismans, and graveyards were about the safest place in London. Some ghosts were tied to a physical location, but chances were better that a ghost haunted a house or building because it chose to do so.
Making the bags was part potions, part art, and part sixth sense that appeared to be limited to some witches and wizards, just like any other magical skill. Each bag had to be tailored to the ghost it would trap. Malfoy was valuable because he could talk to them, distract them, and promise them all the things they yearned for. They needed Hermione because she knew the history of every ingredient in her kit, from the sachets of flowers petals to the sticky vials of blood secured in the bottom of the bag. Hermione usually picked ingredients as Harry wove, but – well, he wasn’t going to have that luxury tonight.
Malfoy took Hermione’s hand, holding it tight, and Harry let go and crouched, finding a piece of boomslang skin, the strongest leather they had.
“Hermione, darling,” Malfoy said, in a tone Harry had never heard from him before, warm and intimate. It was a bedroom voice. “Do you remember, the month after we started dating, that holiday in Bath?”
“Oh, yes,” Hermione said. Her eyes were still focused on the ghost, but the corner of her mouth pulled up. “It rained the entire time.”
“It did,” Malfoy said. “And we hadn’t told anyone that we were together, because we both still thought the entire thing was utterly insane…”
“Well, it was,” Hermione said. “I’ve no idea what possessed you to even consider the idea.”
“You,” Malfoy said. “When I saw you work, darling, everything else paled in comparison. You’re ruthlessly efficient and completely methodical and I was so irritated you’d decided to join the Aurors because I thought working around you was going to be so, exceedingly boring.”
“By the book,” Hermione agreed, sounding amused, though she hadn’t looked away from the woman who held her gaze.
“It was different,” Draco said. “All this feeling, all this depth, this beautiful thing where you made everything look so effortless, but like you were drawing with magic. And I wanted to have you, though –“ He laughed, hoarsely. “Well. I don’t think either of us imagined it would lead to this.”
“I only said yes because I thought it was some sort of ludicrous trap or joke or something,” Hermione said, absently. “Then you were charming and awfully funny, and I…”
“You remember that holiday,” Draco said. “We were stuck in that villa, eating all these ludicrously well-prepared dishes, but you finished all the books you had with you and there’s really only so much sex you can have in one weekend when you’re not having real sex yet –“
Hermione laughed, this time. “And we fought like cats and dogs, and I was literally ready to throw my things in my bag and take the train back in the middle of the night and call the whole thing off, but you –“
“I said if we were going to get rained on, we might as well get wet.”
“I’m still relatively certain putting a muggle repelling charm on the Roman Baths wasn’t legal even if it was three o’clock in the morning.”
“Unspeakables and Malfoys hardly concern themselves with legalities,” Malfoy said, voice still warm and affectionate.
Harry found what he was looking for in Hermione’s kit, setting a sewing spell on a bobbin of rust-colored, faded thread; Hermione had meticulously labeled most of the blood thread, but this one was marked only with “EMERGENCIES ONLY.” He kept it in the back of his head as the needle started to pull together one seam of the bag, closing his eyes for a moment. This was the part that was more intuition than anything else – you either had it or you didn’t. Harry wasn’t quite as skilled as Hermione, but he was still far better than everyone behind them.
“And either way, you broke the rule as well,” Malfoy said, laughing. It didn’t even sound forced.
“Oh, all right,” Hermione replied, laughing too. “It was that or beat you to death with a book.”
“Such a pity we don’t get on well,” Malfoy said.
“Sadly, I’m reasonably certain at some point in time I ceased to find your obnoxious tendencies annoying,” Hermione said. “And your terrible sense of humor has grown on me. And obviously I’m an excellent influence, you’re much less high strung these days, you got better in bed when you stopped trying so hard.”
“Coming from you,” Malfoy said, fondly. “I don’t have any obnoxious tendencies. And I’m better in bed when I’m in love with the person I’m sleeping with.”
“You do so. You constantly forget the tea kettle and we keep having to buy new ones because the bottom has literally burnt out, you never put books back in the right order, you clean so horribly one would almost think you’d grown up with servants, and don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’re still stealing my shampoo and replacing it even though you promised to give that up and buy your own bottle at New Year’s,” Hermione said.
“Distracted by official Unspeakable research, your right order, I only ruined that one load of laundry, and I am not,” Malfoy said.
“Are so,” Hermione said. She’d stepped fully back onto the mark and it was obvious that her attention was starting to waver between the ghost and Malfoy.
“Yes, well, besides the point,” Malfoy said. “I thought I’d just get it out of my system, you know. I’m not sure I’d told you that.”
“I did think,” Hermione replied. “I hardly thought you’d asked me out because you were interested in some long-term relationship. But I figured you were probably halfway decent in bed and you’d pay for everything. I hadn’t gotten laid in six months and it seemed like a reasonable prospect.”
“Sell out,” Draco teased. “Letting go of all your lofty moral values for eight course meals and shagging school enemies?”
“Sometimes uncomplicated and practical is ideal,” Hermione said. “Though I’m hardly seeing the point of this conversation.”
“Well, you didn’t know where we were going –“
“Yes, which I was more than happy to shout at you over –“
“Yes, until we got there,” Malfoy said. “And then you came in out of the rain and it was so warm there from the springs that you were literally steaming, but you got this look on your face. You’re rather hard to surprise, you know.”
“Hardly,” Hermione said. “It’s not as if it’s my fault no one’s ever creative with their surprises. Though I’ll admit I was hardly expecting you of all people to know where a muggle historical site was, let alone to take me to visit it in the middle of the night.”
Harry could feel all the magic in the room – the dark, hungry pull of the siren, murmuring a net around Hermione, the faint field of Hermione’s magic, pushed down, and then the silver thrust of whatever Malfoy was doing, ripping away the darkness as it formed around Hermione. They were nearly even, Harry thought, but it probably wasn’t something Malfoy could keep up forever. Then there were the ingredients – he picked the forsythia petals, glowing faintly, somehow an obvious choice even if he probably wouldn’t have thought of it without Malfoy, and then, after a few seconds of hesitation, holly. Yew was his usual choice with its ties to laying the dead to rest, but something told him it wouldn’t work here.
“You’ve never actually asked,” Malfoy said. “Which is interesting, given that you never stop asking about things. But if you’re curious, that was the moment I started to fall in love with you.”
Harry considered for a moment – he’d thought about bone or grave dust, but the truth was that the opposite of love wasn’t hatred or even death, but apathy. He took several of the small diamonds out of a pouch in a pocket – he’d never used them before, but diamonds were one of the few substances that wouldn’t hold any magic. And although Harry wasn’t entirely certain why this ghost in particular had chosen to focus on Hermione, something had happened surrounding the ghost’s engagement, and that made their use personal. He let the sewing spell finish, standing.
“That’s rather charming, actually,” Hermione said, with a smile. “It took me a little longer, but you know how stubborn I can be.”
“Malfoy,” Harry said, quietly, and he held out a hand, letting Harry drop the packet into it.
“I do,” Malfoy agreed. “Love, I need a bit of a favor.”
“Hah!” said Hermione. “I knew you wanted something, you’re never this romantic on your own.”
“Yes, well, it’s important,” Draco murmured, pressing the packet into her hands. “Can you hand this to the other person who’s trying to talk to you? Just give it to her for me. Then I’ll stop distracting you from your conversation.”
“Oh, all right,” Hermione said. “I was expecting something more involved, but I can do that.”
She took it from him absently, as distantly as she’d done everything else, and Harry watched her murmur something and drop it into the ghost’s palm. Something freely taken had more power than something that was thrown, so unless it was a particularly weak ghost, they did their best to get the ghost to take it. British ghosts didn’t realize it was a trap, so they could usually be talked into it, even if it was solely on curiosity. As soon as it touched her palm, Harry knew it would work – she ghost-shrieked, an awful noise that sounded like death, and Harry gritted his teeth as she started to unravel. That was the second reason they usually had two weavers: he could feel the struggle between the magic created by the bag and what had once been her life force. Now it was corrupted into something consisting only of hunger and desperation. The last of it washed over him in a wave, cold and sharp and angry, and then the packet fell to the floor. Draco stepped off his mark to grab the window frame, shaking. He bent, head bowed, and then turned away from them both and was sick against the wall, twice, finally sinking to his knees.
“I don’t –“ Hermione said, sounding confused. “Harry? Draco? What’s happened?”
“It’s all right,” Malfoy said, finally. “Though if, in the future, you could refrain from selecting any cases that involve ghosts intent on killing you and that are so far above our pay grade I would need several additional vaults in Gringotts were they to raise my salary accordingly, I would deeply appreciate it.”
The calm Harry had been holding close to weave the spell shattered, and he fell forward, catching himself with his palms before he could crush the work kit. “Fuck.”
“I really don’t –“ Hermione said.
“It was a siren,” Harry said, swallowing hard against the desire to start retching too. “Malfoy took care of it.”
“Potter did the weaving,” Malfoy said, head still bowed. “I just… distracted you.”
“A siren?” Hermione echoed, and when Harry finally lifted his head, she looked pale in the moonlight spilling in through the dirty window. “I don’t think there have been more than three or four of those reported in the whole of Britain –“
“Yes, well, you did a superb job of finding the next in line,” Malfoy snapped. “Do try to pick the lethal ones, won’t you? I so enjoy these nightly outings, I’d hate for them to come to an end just because we’ve all been killed.”
“I –“ Hermione began, but Malfoy tossed Harry a small, glowing jar. “Put the bag in it. I’ll be downstairs when you two decide you’d like to leave the premises. And if you think you’re going to give me some sort of bloody lecture about smoking at historical sites, I’d strongly consider rethinking that one or you’re going to be sleeping on the couch for the next several months.”
“Draco -“ Hermione said, but he’d already started off down the stairs, quiet and angry.
“Well, damn,” she said, with a sigh. “That went well.”
“Exceedingly,” Harry agreed. “You’re not dead, which you’ve got him to thank for, by the way, and this thing isn’t going to kill anybody else.” He picked up the sachet with a pair of iron tongs and put it in the jar Malfoy had given him, sealing the lid tight. Its glow flared for a moment before it changed, lid turning into glass and fusing with the body, and then it went dark.
Hermione looked out the window toward the boathouse, where Malfoy was pacing back and forth along the dock.
“I do wish he wouldn’t overreact so awfully,” she said.
“Hermione,” Harry said, pausing in putting away the vials that had scattered across the floor. He had to make fists and shake them out again to stop the shaking. “I was afraid. That was probably the closest call we’ve ever had. That thing scared the living hell out of both of us.”
He stood, wrapping a hand around her wrist, and tugged her in for a tight hug, holding her close for a moment longer than was probably strictly necessary out of sheer relief. Hermione exhaled against his jacket, resting her head on his shoulder for a moment.
“There was absolutely nothing in the research or from any of the witnesses,” she said.
“I didn’t say it was your fault,” Harry said, gently. “But I think maybe we’d better stop trying to knock off these things without all the information.”
“That’s bloody likely,” Hermione muttered. “I’m sure the Ministry will assign us five wisps and an apparition next week.”
“I do sort of Head the department,” Harry pointed out. “Some safety policies might not be entirely amiss.”
“We can’t turn down the hard ones, Harry,” Hermione said. “We’re the best we’ve got, quite honestly, and I’m not putting junior Aurors at risk on cases where we don’t have all the details. They’ll just get themselves killed.”
Harry snorted. “I’ll admit that some of it was skill, but I don’t think we managed because we’re amazing at this,” he said. “We got through that one because Malfoy is thoroughly capable of charming your attentions away from a very persistent ghost, apparently through insults and romantic reminiscing about some holiday trip in Bath.”
“Damn it,” Hermione said, again. “He never brings that up. Least of all in front of you.”
“He never gets all charmingly soppy either,” Harry said. “Even I almost felt fond of him for a moment. So say we’ll be more careful next time even if all three of us know we can’t guarantee anything, and I’ll – god, I don’t know, hire some divination people or something. This thing where we’re using the entire magical police force for dealing with hauntings is getting ludicrous.”
Hermione snorted. “Yes, that ought to help, they can find death omens for us, we haven’t got enough of those,” she said. “Try more research assistants and a better magicopathologist. Honestly, Harry, a siren kill isn’t going to look anything like most other ghost kills, why didn’t anyone think to tell us the hearts had burst on all three victims?”
“I read the autopsy reports and I’m not entirely sure it was even noted,” Harry said, biting back the urge to start swearing under his breath. “I don’t suppose you want to start that job search.”
“I’m not the department head,” Hermione said, with a grin. “Just his partner. But I suppose I might pitch in since you can’t tell up from down when it comes to anatomy.”
“For the hundredth time –“ Harry said.
“Yes, I know you haven’t the time to take a course, that’s why I keep giving you books.”
“That I absolutely have the time to read,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “I would think that sitting in on most of the autopsies ought to give me some sort of idea.”
“Fair enough,” Hermione said. “We’ve got to stop being a revolving door and hiring awful people, though.”
“Yes, I’m really enjoying having someone different every month or so, and I make a point of hiring the worst of the lot,” Harry said, letting her go to pick up the case. He rubbed the back of his neck. “No one wants to work on anything with ghosts right now, they’re too frightened.”
“Well, too bloody bad,” Hermione said. “It’s not as if we haven’t seen worse than this.”
“Go make nice with Malfoy,” Harry said. “I’ll even stay up here and attempt to fix the stairs for a while. Historic site and all.”
Hermione snorted. “Did something happen between you and Ginny in the last twelve hours that I’ve somehow missed?”
“No,” Harry said, warily. “Why? I’m not supposed to hear anything unless it’s through my solicitor.”
“Meaning, you’re still sleeping in our bloody guest bedroom, so your Victorian sensibilities about our marriage are getting a bit ridiculous,” Hermione said.
“Malfoy’s weirdly private about that sort of thing,” Harry pointed out, trying not to flush.
“Men,” Hermione said.
“He hasn’t thrown a fit over me staying, I’m not pushing my luck,” Harry said, firmly.
“You do know he isn’t going to, Harry,” Hermione pointed out. “You’re welcome for as long as you need. And that’s not just because you’re my best friend. He cares about you as well.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Harry said. “Just no make up shagging on the dock, please. God only knows what’s in the lake. You might catch something.”
Hermione laughed. “We’ll save it for later, I think I’ve got wood lice down my shirt,” she said. “At least let me spell you across the stairs. You can loiter around the front if you’d like.”
“All right,” Harry said, finally. “Just – I don’t know. Wave at me when you’re ready to leave, or something.”
Hermione paused. “Harry, we’ve been married for nearly a year,” she said, finally, softly. “I know almost no one approves, but I’d have thought you’d be a bit more open minded.”
“I really, truly do not have a single problem with you and Malfoy and anything you do or do not choose to do in your personal lives,” Harry said. “But it’s a little – it takes some getting used to, all right? And my life is taking some getting used to at the moment as well.” He reached for her hand. “But I’m – look, please don’t mistake the fact that my work life nearly gets me killed about two or three times a week and I’m in the middle of a ludicrously nasty divorce for… not being happy for you. I am. Of course I am.”
“Thanks, Harry,” Hermione said, standing on her toes to kiss his cheek. She looked a little less upset.
“I’ll work on it,” Harry said, with what he knew was probably a slightly forced smile.
“Believe it or not, he really does like you,” Hermione said, laughing. “When you had to go to France last month he had no idea what to do with himself all afternoon.”
“He couldn’t… do things with you or something?” Harry said, dubiously. “Things that I’m not mentioning because of my Victorian sensibilities?”
“Apparently I’m not an adequate partner for verbal sparring,” she said. “I’m too nice and don’t push him nearly hard enough.”
“Would you just go let him make sure you’re in one piece?” Harry said, finally. “I think he probably needs that.”
“Oh, all right,” Hermione agreed. “But we really do have to get on that magicopathologist thing in the morning.”
“Agreed, and go,” Harry said, firmly, letting out a small sigh of relief when Hermione finally disappeared from view.
If he was honest, even if he was getting used to it, Draco and Hermione together served as a physical reminder of all the ways his life hadn’t gone according to plan in the last decade. He’d been so bloody excited to be an Auror with Ron after the war, rounding up Death Eaters and finding stolen objects, but as it turned out, when you were the Savior of the Wizarding World, no one particularly wanted to send you on field assignments. Still, things had gone well for the first few years or so – he was with Ginny, and Ron was with Hermione, and they’d all seemed happy. But Hermione had finally realized that nothing short of real work was going to feel satisfying after the war, no matter how much she loved libraries, and Ron – well, becoming an Auror had been one thing, but Hermione becoming a better Auror than him was another. And then somewhere along the way, Ron had stopped coming around, and Ginny had started spending longer and longer away on Quidditch match trips. If Harry was really honest, it had gone to hell in a hand basket long before the ghosts had appeared.
Ghosts weren’t meant to be dangerous, they’d said. Ghosts were kind, friendly creatures who taught you History of Magic or celebrated their Death Day in the Great Hall to much cheering and applause. Ghosts gave you important hints. No witch or wizard ever told their child scary ghost stories, because the idea was less threatening than the idea of doxies in the curtains. The things that people had done to other people in the last decade far outweighed any heightened sense that there might be something more than met the eye. Ghosts were harmless. Benevolent. Typically quite cheerful.
Unfortunately, they had gotten it wrong.
Because the truth was, there were an awful lot of ghosts that weren’t cheerful, or benevolent, or harmless. There were ghosts who were angry. Ghosts for whom fear and terror were pleasure, ghosts who hunted, ghosts who fed. As it turned out, the muggle horror stories had gotten it half right, at least; for them, ghosts were merely things that went bump in the night. But ghosts weren’t nearly so kind to those with magic, because magic was what allowed them to be. And that was the crux of it, because ghosts were those who wanted to be alive again - the murder victim looking for revenge, the killer whose taste for blood hadn’t diminished with the hangman’s noose, the mother who had lost her child and hoped to find it in the next life, the lover separated from his beloved by time or fate… and, as with any ambition worth having, ghosts wanted these things so badly that reason and logic and human emotion were lost to them. They merely wanted, hunger and longing tied up in a beautiful horror. And unlike the people they suddenly knew how to hunt, they knew the stakes. Feed, and keep feeding, or you’ll lie down again, and ghosts only got one chance at waking, one moment to step through the doorway, one shot at all of it. Which made a rather compelling argument, when it came down to it, for going beyond the unspeakable and into the unthinkable: if it came down to you or them, then the logical choice was always yourself, no matter what the cost. And without head or heart or empathy to guide them, it turned out that most ghosts weren’t what anyone had thought they were.
It had started a few days before Halloween over a year before, with three pregnant witches drained of every ounce of blood and magic in the Magicolegal Department morgue. Their bodies had been packed with icons to lay the dead and keep them down; Harry could still remember Hermione and Padma Patil quietly arguing over the origin of every piece of iconography while he’d been sick into one of the corner drains. Harry had thought then that he’d seen one too many bodies – now, in all honesty, he preferred the quiet of the morgue to nearly anywhere else. Freshly killed people were laid quickly enough these days that they never yielded ghosts, which meant that dead bodies were about the safest things he spent any time around. But he still remembered the first few – their molars hollowed out and replaced with glass beads, iron coins sewn just beneath the skin all over the body, their hearts stitched with silver thread, and their wands – three identical yew wands, replacing one of the bones in their forearms.
In the end, sometimes inept wizards trying to do some sort of good were far worse than evil ones with ambitions of power. Hermione had figured out the what, of course, but with no relationship between the victims and little time, every wizard in England had been helpless to the combination of African magic and Santeria that a wizard at the university had used in an attempt to lay the restless spirits he’d been seeing. He’d turned out to be a channel, someone with the highest level of ghost sensing ability, and Harry might have felt sorry for him if he hadn’t opened thousands of doorways that had been sealed shut with blood magic for hundreds of years. One wrong ingredient – the wrong species of Datura, Hermione had later figured out – and his laying spell had turned into a waking one. The protections that had kept ghosts away from magic, leaving them dormant or harmless, were gone in an instant.
Every witch and wizard in Britain had woken in a cold sweat with the knowledge that something had changed, and within a few hours, hundreds of the index cards in the Ministry’s Vital Statistics Office keeping track of every witch and wizard stopped listing locations and started filing themselves in the “DECEASED” folder.
The Aurors had tried everything they could think of – salting and burning bones, creating new variations of the Patronus charm, forming shelters - but nothing worked. Hogwarts had to be evacuated, because even its spells and the allied ghosts couldn’t protect the students. The manors and oldest houses were the hardest hit. It only took a few days for a group of purebloods to present themselves at headquarters, with a stack of books that were old and utterly horrifying; a few appeared to be bound with human skin, and most of the others had blood stains that shimmered and reappeared on the covers and pages when you looked at them.
“This is the best we’ve got, so you’d damn well better find something,” Malfoy had told Hermione, and she’d cupped his face in her hands and kissed him hard, in front of twenty-six extremely sleep deprived Aurors and Draco’s small army of purebloods and Unspeakables.
“I didn’t bring them here for that, Granger,” Draco had said, turning on his heel with the sort of look that dared anyone to say anything, and Harry stopped wondering why the Unspeakables had been spending so much time helping with the research and why Hermione seemed – different, lately.
There weren’t any spells to redo the wards and lock everything away again, of course, because not even the oldest library had that, but volumes on blood magic had quite a bit to say about getting rid of spirits. Apparently they were a common side effect of sacrifices, which Hermione had said with a perfectly straight face.
The weakest ones could be talked out of existence by a skilled clairvoyant or clairsentient, which meant that Harry had to find a way of testing everyone in magical law enforcement regarding their ghost-talking abilities. The stronger spirits could be held by magic and forced into a special type of iron sphere. They weren’t gone, exactly, but they weren’t a danger to anyone either. The Ministry of Magic developed a secure storage room, and the Aurors started to clear some of the worst areas, at least until Harry realized that the Unspeakables were almost universally better at dealing with ghosts and that partnering them with Aurors significantly reduced the number of Aurors who nearly got magically eviscerated.
The Unspeakables weren’t particularly happy about being sent on errands with “common police,” but Harry hadn’t cared. Enough people resigned or switched departments that Malfoy had – unsurprisingly – ended up in charge, and Harry had almost been grateful for the knock on his door that interrupted yet another nearly silent dinner with Ginny.
“Two of yours to one of mine, my people get veto power on field assignments, and I get Hermione,” Malfoy had said, not even bothering to set foot inside.
“Done,” Harry said, extending a hand, and Malfoy had considered for a long moment – a moment where he thought Malfoy wouldn’t do it – but he’d returned the handshake with a firm, cool grip.
“For future reference, my word is more than enough,” Malfoy had said, somehow looking faintly amused in spite of everything.
“You do realize Hermione’s my partner,” Harry had said, trying to conceal his amusement.
“We obviously don’t talk about anything at all,” Malfoy had said, in an equally dry tone. “I’ve no idea what she does at work. And I haven’t seen either of your files. I’m not asking to work with her because she’s my girlfriend, you idiot, I’m asking because I’m the best we’ve got and she’s the best you’ve got and you’re… vaguely acceptable and unlikely to let a roof cave in on me. If it were up to you, you’d go spreading all your best talent around, but you’re far better off pairing your best with my best and sending everyone else to mess around with those bloody cold spirit things that can’t even manage to give you frostbite. Send the inept ones to deal with that.”
Ginny hadn’t been able to understand how Malfoy of all people had lead to the first real laugh Harry had managed in months.
The first few months had largely been clearing out the most haunted spots and the most lethal ghosts they could handle. They left the ghosts that were far too powerful to bind for a point when Hermione’s research had caught up with how to deal with the far end of her rapidly growing catalogue, posting barriers and warnings. The death toll slowly began to descend, they were able to clear most of the mansions, and Hermione drew up an entire protocol for new cases, with reports and mandatory research and assignments. They had a system, with kits and manuals and schedules, and Hermione and four or five of the Unspeakables had held countless hours of middle of the night floo calls with American wizards in New Orleans. The gris gris worked significantly better than anything else had. Even though Harry had to test two entire departments yet again, this time on their weaving ability, it was finally starting to feel as if things might, somehow, be getting better when he’d come home early from a job and found Ginny in bed with – well. Someone else.
“What, don’t tell me we’ve forgotten something on the bloody report, it can wait until morning,” Malfoy said, when he opened the door to Hermione’s row house – purportedly, Malfoy Manor had a ghost that was still classified as too dangerous walking around on the lower levels.
“We’ve forgotten the scotch, actually,” Harry had said, numbly. Draco let him in. He still wasn’t entirely sure what Hermione and Malfoy said when they silently Apparated over to collect his things, but neither Ron nor Ginny had really spoken to him since. Harry wasn’t entirely sorry.
He wasn’t jealous exactly, he reflected from the front steps of the mansion, trying not to watch Hermione and Malfoy, but being the third wheel at work and in the field and in their house was getting… tiring. But moving and not waking up to Malfoy poking around with tea kettles or burning eggs, and not finding Hermione’s books crammed in every available spot, including, occasionally, in lieu of actual food in the cupboards, still felt like it would be a step away from safety that Harry wasn’t entirely ready to take.
“If you two would stop having some sort of snogging reunion,” he called, tiredly. “There’s an awful lot of mud to trek back through.”
“Well now I can put down a path charm, Harry,” Hermione said, with her usual fond exasperation, and Malfoy – damn him – laughed, Hermione still gathered in his arms.
“She might even let us Apparate once we’re away from the bloody historic site,” he said, voice teasing.
“Quite possibly,” Hermione agreed. “Some of us need showers. And Harry’s going to have to interview people in the morning.”
“What’s this ‘Harry,’” Harry said, heading down the dock toward them.
“Oh, all right, I’ll –“
“Potter, don’t –“ Malfoy said, right as Harry stepped on a board that shimmered and disappeared, plunging him directly into the freezing cold water and several feet of muck beneath the dock.
“Draco, you didn’t warn me about that!” Hermione said.
“Yes, well, you weren’t going to step on it,” Draco said. “I did try, Potter.”
“Well in advance,” Harry remarked. “Thoroughly appreciated. Is anyone going to get me out of here, or are you leaving me for the grindylows?”
“Don’t be daft,” Hermione said.
“Thank you,” Harry said. “Sooner rather than later, it’s bloody cold.”
“I meant, don’t be daft, grindylows wouldn’t be caught dead in this sort of half-drained horror show,” Hermione said, peering down through the gap in the boards at him with a sudden grin.
“I will kill you with my bare hands and then let the siren out so you can make friends,” Harry said, solemnly. “She seemed quite lonely, really.”
“Oh, I suppose,” Hermione said. “I did miss out on that whole theoretical teenage experimentation thing in school. It’s probably a bit hard to say for sure unless you’ve tried it, wouldn’t you think?”
“As appealing as that sounds, you are married,” Malfoy said. “And alive, and I’d prefer to keep you that way, so get Potter out of there so we can go home.”
Hermione kept a straight face as she summoned him up onto her path and cast enough cleaning charms to get rid of the majority of the muck, though Harry was reasonably certain he’d never be warm again. Malfoy considered for a long moment, dug in his coat pocket, and passed over a flask.
“Really?” Hermione said. “On the job?”
“Well, technically it’s completed,” Malfoy said.
“Oh just report it as part of the first aid kit,” Harry said, taking a long swallow, and even if firewhiskey was never quite pleasant, well – at least he felt less like throwing himself back into the swamp.
The walk out wasn’t nearly as bad – or as time consuming – as the walk in, and Hermione gave in about Apparating out at the halfway point. Malfoy was either too tired or too stressed to even bother pretending that he wasn’t following Hermione directly into the shower when they got back, and Harry took the second bathroom and resisted the urge to write sonnets to Hermione’s endless reheating charm on the water heater; he stood there for nearly half an hour before he finally felt warm again. He found pyjamas and a dressing gown before he headed for the kitchen. The lights were off upstairs, which Harry figured was a decent indication that everyone else had gone to bed, but when he opened the door, Malfoy had the kettle on and was frying eggs and sausages.
“Hermione’s asleep,” he said. “Do you want some?”
“Sure,” Harry said, sitting at the table. He paused. “You know, I was just going to make a sandwich. But I won’t turn down your strange obsession with breakfast food.”
Malfoy snorted. “We’d sort of been talking about moving in together,” he said. “And I was fully aware that even if I paid the house elves, there wasn’t a chance in hell. I figured I ought to pick my battles, so I was learning to cook – you know, with one of those instructional book things they sell – but I was somewhere in between pancakes and quiche when all this ghost nonsense started.”
“Huh,” Harry said, cupping his hand in his chin.
“Potter, if you’re going to make some ludicrously offensive remark about Muggle Studies and Slytherins, just make it,” Malfoy said, flipping the eggs.
“No,” Harry said. “I was thinking that it was nice. That you’d do that for her.”
“Well, she gave in on plenty of things, I assure you,” Malfoy said, then paused. “Oh, damn. You meant that.”
Harry yawned, keeping his chin in his hand. “Hermione appears to be concerned I’m somehow unhappy about your marriage,” he said. “I’m not, actually. It’s just chronic sleep deprivation and trying to arrange the eighth visit to my solicitor’s office this month and running a department where all my support staff are constantly quitting.”
“Mm,” Malfoy agreed, setting down a plate of food and a cup of tea in front of him.
“Honestly,” Harry said. “I’m happy she’s with someone who… appreciates her.” He paused, trying not to laugh. “And doesn’t mind that she stashes books in the cupboards if her shelves get full. And you make decent eggs.”
“Potter, I get the gist of it, but you’re not entirely coherent,” Malfoy said. “Eat that. Then, I don’t know.” He sat down in the chair across the table, picking up a piece of toast and adding milk to his tea. “I’m supposed to hint around and ask if you’re all right. I think it’s a stupid question, you’re quite obviously not, but Hermione informs me that being too direct is impolite.”
“I’m fine,” Harry said, automatically, then paused. “Is there a reason she’s sent you to have this conversation? No offense, but usually she’s after me herself.”
“No idea,” Malfoy said. “I said you were her responsibility.”
“What am I, the Granger-Malfoy household labrador or something?” Harry said amused in spite of himself.
“God, no,” Malfoy said, rolling his eyes, and headed toward the stove to get the kettle. “I just mean – you’re her people, Longbottom’s her people, Pansy and Padma are my people. You know. It’s not as if that sort of thing just changes when you get married. You can’t just reallocate everyone and expect them to respond well to it.”
Harry snorted. “I think when you get married people sort of expect that sort of thing,” he said, noting that Malfoy added the correct amount of cream and sugar.
“Yes, well, it’s different if most of the people you know are –“ Malfoy paused. “Look, historically, Hermione and I do not have a lot of overlap in friends or acquaintances.”
Harry snorted. “I heard about the whole veritaserum thing with Parkinson.”
Malfoy paused. “Yes, well, we all occasionally make terrible choices and dose our friend’s significant other with restricted potions.”
“I think that might be a Slytherin thing,” Harry said. “I think Hermione found it funny. And – well, I did wonder. Occasionally.”
“Did,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “Which would imply that you no longer do.”
“No,” Harry said. “I’ll admit that I’ve got absolutely no idea how you managed to get over everything to get together and I do occasionally wonder when you gave up on the whole pureblood superiority nonsense, but the two of you, together, that's not hard to understand.”
Malfoy stared at him for a long moment, then laughed. “I’d have thought you had that answered,” he said, sounding a bit bemused. “Or weren’t you paying attention?”
“I was,” Harry said. “I’m just struggling a bit with the idea that you wanted to – ah, do much of anything with Hermione.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Implying that you’re shocked that I wanted to have sex with her? Have you seen her lately? And I realize that you’re used to her, but she’s hardly the same as she was in school, she’s the smartest woman I’ve ever met and she runs the show rather thoroughly.” The corner of his mouth pulled up, as if he was amused. “Some men find that sort of thing attractive. And some women apparently find the idea of shagging people they aren’t entirely fond of appealing. Or so I’m told.”
Harry bit back a laugh. “Yeah, the part where you two got in over your heads with a one night stand requires some suspension of disbelief, but honestly, stranger things have happened.”
“Hardly, we were dating,” Malfoy said, sounding a little offended. “Just casually. The sort of dating where you owl one another at half past one in the morning more often than you go out to dinner. But I did take her out to dinner.”
“Oh, all right, you got in over your heads with casual dating,” Harry said, trying not to laugh. “And a lot of purportedly meaningless shagging that no one told anyone else about.”
Malfoy considered, then laughed. “I should probably have known better,” he said, fondly. “I suspect it was thinner ice than I thought.” He paused, then laughed again, gesturing to his left hand. “Actually, I’m confident it was thinner ice than I thought.”
“There are worse things than finding out that the person you didn’t think things would work out with is the person you want to marry,” Harry said. “Like, I don’t know, the opposite.”
“I think I’m supposed to see if you want anything about that,” Malfoy said. “But I’ll be honest, Potter, that whole thing about friends when you’re married doesn’t necessarily apply to enemies, especially not with Slytherins, we rather start to share them, and that witch – well. Don’t ask me what I think of her, you won’t like the answer.”
“Oh, I’d probably like the answer quite a lot,” Harry said. “But I’m trying to be the better person. Or something.”
“How’s that working out for you?” Malfoy said, not sounding particularly impressed.
“Sort of awfully, but thank god the world’s sort of turned upside down, I’ve got enough work to distract myself,” Harry said into his tea cup. “I hate her, there’s a rather awful part of me that wouldn’t mind using some Unforgivables or the worse things Hermione’s gone and dug up in those old books, but I miss when things were solid between us and I’m not sure I’m ever going to stop loving her. Or maybe that I’m ever going to stop loving the idea of her.” He paused. “Malfoy, is there something in this tea?”
“The cream, actually,” Malfoy said. “Sorry.”
“Really?” Harry said, with a sigh. “What happened to all that not poisoning guests Slytherin honor code stuff?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “You’re hardly poisoned, it’s not even veritaserum, it’s just inhibition lowering, and unless you’re planning on leaving any time soon, you live here. I don’t think there are any provisions about housemates.” He paused. “I probably ought to look it up, but Hermione said to do it and you’re hers, so I think I’m relatively in the clear.”
“Oh,” Harry said, startled. “I thought it was temporary. Er, the living here thing, I assume the potion is.”
“I supposed eventually you might like to move,” Malfoy said. “But every time you started leaving classifieds for flats around, Hermione quite literally burned them. Apparently she thinks you need looking after and the countless hours we spend at work don’t count.”
“And you’re not mad about that?” Harry said, pausing, because it occurred to him that Malfoy had poured his cream from the same pitcher. And that he’d said more about his sex life in one conversation than Harry had previously heard to date.
“Of course not,” Malfoy said. “If it were someone else, I might mind, but it’s not as if we haven’t all learned to get on in the field, and it’s nice to…” He paused, leaning back in his chair. “You and Hermione have known one another so long that she’s different around you. Short of waiting a decade, you’re the only way I’m going to get to know that part of her. And even then, I doubt it would be the same, you knew one another as children and teenagers and fought a war together, I hardly think the connection is just based on time.”
“She’s different around you too,” Harry said, making a face. “Disgustingly happy and all that.”
“I know,” Malfoy said, finally, as if Harry hadn’t been making a joke. “I can’t imagine that’s particularly enjoyable.”
“What, Hermione being happy?” Harry said. “Of course I’m happy that Hermione’s happy.”
“Hermione being disgustingly happy while you’re thinking of yourself as the spare carriage horse,” Malfoy said, mildly. “One who happens to be dealing with ending things with someone awful.”
“The spare –“ Harry said, then laughed. “That’s a new one on me. But all right. There are occasionally moments of jealousy and resentment. But not that many.” He eyed his teacup. “A fact I was not planning on disclosing, for the record.”
“I’d be a bit concerned if you weren’t,” Malfoy said. “I know you’re good through and through and all that, but no one’s that altruistic. At the very least, you’d probably like to be getting laid.”
“Er,” Harry said. “I’m all right, honestly.”
“Well, Padma’s back from France,” Malfoy said. “So if you’d like me to accidentally lock you in a closet or something –“
“Padma’s back from France?” Harry said. “Fuck. Thank god.”
“Have I missed something?” Malfoy said.
“Please don’t lock me in a closet, lock her in the morgue,” Harry said. “Or, er, be incredibly charming and talk her into coming back. Although I’ll take kidnapping if it gets me decent autopsy reports.”
Malfoy snorted. “Normal people just call in a favor, Potter,” he said. “I’ll see what she thinks.”
“No, no, there will be no seeing what she thinks, we need her,” Harry said, slightly more desperately than he’d intended.
“Oh, all right, I’ll convince her with my many charms, happy?” Malfoy said.
“If you can get her to agree, yes,” Harry said. “I’ll give her anything she wants. Ludicrously high pay. State of the art equipment. Her pick of technicians. Anything.”
Malfoy laughed again. “I said I’d convince her,” he said, sounding amused. “And I always get my way.”
“I’d noticed,” Harry said.
“Speaking of getting my way,” Malfoy said, thoughtfully. “If I go back up there without having sorted you out, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
“I’m doing about as well as can be expected considering work and my personal life,” Harry pointed out. “And, you know, you’ve made me quite happy with Padma. Really. Hermione can’t possibly complain.”
“Yes, but you’re all –“ Malfoy sighed. “You have this utterly obnoxious tendency of putting your head down and getting into the work when you’re unhappy, and then Hermione gets unhappy because she misses you being happy and not obsessed with reports or something, and then I’m unhappy because I’m horrifyingly in love with her and I don’t like seeing her upset.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “And I suppose you’re my housemate and Auror partner, so I ought to… have some interest in your well-being. Possibly.”
“Oh, no,” Harry said, amused. “You do realize that now I know what you sound like when you’re really trying to be charming. That’s rather pale in comparison.”
“If someone has to charm you away from a siren, then I’ll up my game,” Malfoy said, then paused. “Or Hermione will up her game? Damn, I’m going to have to do research if there’s any chance we’re going to run into another of those. I wonder if sexuality matters.”
“Well, we’ll at least know it’s a siren ahead of time if Padma’s doing the bloody autopsies,” Harry said. “And it wouldn’t matter with me, anyway.” He paused. “Damn it, Draco, ask next time you’re slipping things in my tea, that’s around the fourth thing I’d rather have kept to myself.”
“Hah, you used my first name,” Draco said. “Hermione will be happy, she’s been after me about that for months, I said you had to go first.” He paused. “Wait, does that mean I have twice as many people to work with?”
“That’s not really how being bisexual works,” Harry said, glaring. “So no, I am not attempting to double my chances.”
“Honestly, Harry,” Draco said, sounding a little too much like Hermione. “One, to my knowledge, the only strictly heterosexual person living in this house is Hermione, and two, I meant that were my wife to harass me into setting you up on blind dates, I would be able to choose from male acquaintances as well.”
Harry paused, then laughed. “You did not intend to tell me that first bit,” he said, feeling a little smug.
“I really didn’t,” Draco said, ruefully. “But I sort of thought it would be a rather unfair playing field if I was completely sober and you weren’t.”
“Well, at least we’re even,” Harry said. “I have a magicopathologist, we’ve shared things about ourselves, is there any chance I can just go to bed?”
“Maybe,” Draco said, propping his chin in his hand. “How did you like to recharge, before all this? You know, Hermione tells us all to fuck off and reads, I go flying, what’s yours?”
“Quidditch, I think,” Harry said. “And naps with –“ He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I liked falling asleep with someone else. Not – at night, exactly, just… if we were reading or lying out in the sun or if I was going to sleep and she’d come in and stay. I… miss that.”
“Well, we’re taking the weekend off, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the frenetic pace of the last god knows how long, you’re losing all your staff because they’re burning out, and we can’t afford for that to happen to any of us, so you can’t keep just burying yourself in work,” Draco said. “But I’ll go with you to the park on Saturday if you’d like. I’ve got a snitch. And the other part –“ He considered. “Just call it sorted.”
“You know, even if Ginny were willing to show up and sleep around me, I’d probably sooner hex her than have her anywhere near me,” he said.
Draco rolled his eyes. “As if we’d let that woman near you,” he said. “Or in our home.”
“I’m not entirely following,” Harry said.
“Call it sorted,” Draco repeated. “And I’ve got a chess set if you’d like. Hermione said you used to like to play.”
“I did, actually, before all this,” Harry admitted. “Though if we use your set, are you going to give them all marching orders before the game’s even started?”
Draco laughed. “Smart, but no, then it’s hardly any fun,” he said. “Contrary to popular opinion, I do enjoy winning more without cheating.”
“Could have fooled me,” Harry teased.
Draco looked at him for a moment. “There’s a difference between having to win to meet someone else’s expectations and wanting to.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Well. I only play for fun. And occasionally wagers on who has to do the laundry.”
“Trust me, you don’t want me anywhere near that,” Draco said, tone lightening again. “But I’d bet on dishes or something. Or who has to draw up the next draft set of assignment rotations.”
“No, if I get stuck with that two months in a row, I’ll probably fling myself off a balcony and start haunting things,” Harry said.
“Fair enough,” Draco said, laughing. “Right. Go to bed. I’m going to make sure I’ve got all of Hermione’s stupid muggle burners off.”
“I don’t –“ Harry paused. “I’ve absolutely no idea what you think you just got out of me.”
“Well, you talked about Weasley instead of stewing over it,” Draco said, mildly. “And agreed to something that wasn’t work. Plus I got a square meal into you, even if it was at the wrong time of day. And I’ve gotten you Padma, so I expect you to be approaching cheerful at work tomorrow.”
“I’ll work on it,” Harry said, laughing in spite of himself. “Maybe just take the kettle off the stove, then you can’t possibly burn it.”
“Huh, hadn’t thought of that,” Draco said. “I think I will. Goodnight, Harry.”
“Night, Draco,” Harry said, and stepped up the stairs wondering how such a strange and somewhat pointless conversation had left him feeling somewhat better after all.
Harry woke up before Hermione and Draco, and although he had to grudgingly admit that Draco’s point about not burying himself in work might have some merit, the paperwork really wasn’t going to do itself. He’d gotten through most of the report when Hermione stuck her head around the corner of his office door. “I’ve brought pastries,” she said. “And I have exciting news.”
“Padma?” Harry hazarded.
“Damn,” Hermione muttered. “How on earth did you know that? She’s only been downstairs ten minutes filling out a rehire application, I only know because I literally ran into her. Thank god I hadn’t gotten the tea yet.”
“Draco’s still asleep, isn’t he?” Harry said, as Hermione came in to sit on the edge of his desk, offering him the bag of pastries and a mug of tea.
“Well, he was when I left,” Hermione said, then looked at him for a minute and laughed, looking smug. “You called him Draco and you’ve got some sort of conspiracy going about Padma. I knew that was a great plan.”
“No, that was a terrible plan,” Harry said. “Can I trust this tea?”
“I don’t know, anything pressing you’re keeping to yourself?” Hermione said, innocently.
“Just my sexuality and my feelings on my divorce, thanks,” Harry said dubiously, taking a mug. “But I’ve decided to accept Padma as an apology present from Draco. You’re not off the hook, though.”
“Honestly, Harry, I’ve been worried,” she said, pushing his chair back and sitting on the arm, resting her head on his shoulder. “You’ve just been getting more and more miserable.”
Harry still found it a little strange that Hermione had gotten significantly more physically affectionate since she’d gotten together with Draco, but he supposed that unlike Ron, Draco had never been particularly inclined toward getting jealous, so things that had been off limits probably weren’t these days.
“I’m all right,” he said, wrapping his free arm around her. “Honestly. I’d really like for everything with Ginny to just be done, and I’d really like to get things more organized around here so I can stop working literally every waking moment, and I’d really like to get to investigate some cursed object instead of a haunting, but it’s not as if I’m drowning or something.”
Hermione laughed against his shoulder. “Well, not literally,” she said. “Possibly in metaphorical paperwork.”
“Oh, trust me, it’s exceptionally real paperwork,” Harry said, with a sigh.
“Yes, that you keep swiping,” Hermione said, hitting him on the shoulder. “I don’t mind writing up field reports, Harry. I’ve told you.”
“And I’ve told you that I’d rather you make sure the kit’s stocked and keep track of the incoming complaints to sort them,” Harry said, leaning his chair back to make more room for her. “Was I hallucinating when Draco said something about taking this weekend off?”
“No,” Hermione said. “I put my foot down. We have to start setting limits, and if you start to argue with me, I’m going to point out that because you nearly live here, everyone else thinks they have to as well, which is why all our new recruits are washing out.”
Harry sighed. “Fair point,” he said. “Who’s covering?”
“Delacour and Harper,” Hermione said. “Gabby’s the next best thing to Draco, honestly.”
“She is,” Harry said. “But who’s the Unspeakable?”
“Er, there isn’t,” Hermione said. “Would you rather not know if you’re not going to like it?”
“That depends on how much I’m not going to like it,” Harry said. “But I’m in a fairly decent mood over this whole Padma thing, and I suppose I’d better know who our second string is.”
“I asked Pansy if she’d come weave,” Hermione said, biting the corner of her mouth. “She’s the bloody Potions Master, she’s handled nearly everything at Hogwarts if we couldn’t get someone there in time, and she and Harper are both Slytherins so no one’s going to try to kill one another.”
Harry snorted. “You know, I don’t actually dislike her,” he said. “Besides which, if I was holding grudges over getting potions slipped in drinks… don’t think I don’t know who probably found the potion that unnamed persons slipped in my tea last night.”
“My husband is a bloody snitch,” Hermione said, somewhat fondly.
“I would have known anyway, and if you wanted him to keep his mouth shut, then you shouldn’t have told him to take the bloody stuff too,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.
“What?” Hermione said. “I didn’t.”
“Nice try,” Harry said. “Subtle, actually. Bad auror, simultaneously good and best alternative Unspeakable? That’s an astonishingly Slytherin plan, actually. I’m sure he was proud.”
“No, really,” Hermione said. “I didn’t actually tell him to.” She lifted her head, looking at him. “Are you joking? He’d have had my head for the suggestion. He barely even drinks because he’s so odd about self-control, you know that.”
“Oh, god,” Harry said. “It was his idea?”
“He does have a rather strange set of moral values,” Hermione mused. “But I suppose he’s trying to show he trusts you, is that such a bad thing?”
“Yes, but now he’s gone and gotten all electively open with me,” Harry muttered. “It means I have to return the favor.”
Hermione snorted. “Or you could just take it as a nice gesture,” she pointed out.
Harry sighed. “You’re married to him.”
“Oh, all right, there’s no such thing,” Hermione said. “Or at least, there’s no such thing as a casual nice gesture, he always thinks about it. But that doesn’t mean he’s expecting something. It’s not –“ She paused. “Harry, I think this might be the most you’ve ever directly asked about Draco. Don’t tell me he’s slipped you a love potion or something as well.”
“I think you’d know,” Harry said, bemused. “I don’t understand ninety percent of the things he does, and I thought we all worked together because, well, we’re respectively the best. I’d sort of figured he was going to start leaving plans about turning the guest bedroom into an office around the house sooner or later. He’s your husband.”
“I hardly think I have a monopoly on Draco,” Hermione said, pointedly. “And he thinks you’re interesting. Which, quite frankly, is about the highest praise possible from a Slytherin.”
“What’s that quote? ‘May you live in interesting times?’” Harry said, reaching for his tea mug.
“It’s supposed to be a curse, actually,” Hermione said. “Don’t make it needlessly complicated, Harry. He does what he wants to. I’m not going to pretend his motives are usually transparent, but he’s never impulsive. And contrary to what everyone keeps insisting, he actually is capable of caring about other people.”
“Oh, I know,” Harry said. “You wouldn’t have married him if he weren’t. I’d just, er – never assumed he thought that about me.”
“That’s a little callous, don’t you think?” Hermione said, softly. “He’s had your back for a year.”
“Stop making me feel guilty about Malfoy,” Harry said, elbowing her before she could make him really uncomfortable.
“Why, because my wife’s lounging around on you?” Draco said, leaning against the doorway. “I might be more inclined toward concern if you actually kept a second chair in your bloody office. At this point it’s just pragmatic.”
“There are about fifteen right outside,” Harry said. “God forbid someone have to levitate a chair ten feet.”
“Well, you can levitate mine, I’ve brought up the paperwork from downstairs, Padma’s acquisition requests, and the pairings for this month,” Draco said. “Short of a ghost appearing in Trafalgar Square, we’re on desk duty for the afternoon.”
“You lot are on desk duty,” Hermione said, making a face. “I’ve got to go to the Historical Site Offices, someone thinks they might have a diary that belonged to our friend from last night.”
“Or we could leave well enough alone,” Draco said.
“We really can’t,” Hermione said, standing up with a sigh. “We’ve barely got anything to work with on sirens. We have to know why they occur so when we know to be on the look for them. And if this diary doesn’t pan out and I can’t find anything else, you know exactly what I’m going to have to do.”
“Absolutely bloody not,” Draco said. “Maybe for something a little less, I don’t know, lethal, but there are some things more valuable than intellectual curiosity. Like you staying alive.”
“If the ghost glass in the interview room can’t hold her, the gris gris certainly wouldn’t be able to,” Hermione pointed out. “And anyway, I’ve got to read through all the notes on the other cases, I’ve no idea whether I should send in someone male or female. Besides, the diary might be plenty.”
“Or we could just not send in anyone,” Draco said. “Or, I don’t know, send one of the bloody preservationist people to go dig around and see what they can find under the floorboards.”
“Yes, and let that happen again to a team that doesn’t happen to have a couple in it?” Hermione said. “I don’t think so. We have a responsibility.” She stood on her toes to kiss Draco’s cheek. “Think about what I said, Harry.”
“Actually, you don’t have a –“ Draco said, then sighed when Hermione shut the door behind her. “Has she always been this bloody stubborn?”
Harry paused. “I’m not even dignifying that with an answer,” he said. “And the more you treat her as if she’s some sort of delicate flower in need of protecting just because she’s a woman, the more she’s going to resent you.”
“It’s because we’re married,” Draco said, irritably. “As if I don’t think women are perfectly capable.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Just let me know if you’re going to try that argument on her, I’ll be at the pub for the evening,” he said. “You can be as chivalrous as you like at home, but if you try it at work –“ He met Draco’s eyes. “You’re married to her. You know the lines she’s never going to let you cross.”
“Something about separation of church and state that I thoroughly didn’t understand,” Draco muttered. “Is it so much to ask that she not explain vital information to me with muggle sayings?”
Harry snorted, opening the door and levitating in a second chair. “It means she’s going to get royally pissed off if you start acting like her husband and being all protective at work,” he said. “A fact I’m not entirely sure how you missed for the last year.”
“Oh, I don’t know, you always talk her off whatever it is about thirty seconds before she’s going to start yelling,” Draco said, then considered. “Can you teach me that?”
“No,” Harry said, laughing. “That’s hard won, mate. Besides which, I think the best friend rules of conduct and the husband rules of conduct are a bit different.”
“Damn,” Draco said, with a sigh. “Well. We’ll just keep you around then. Here, sign these. And don’t read them first, I don’t even want to hear about the budget.”
“You mean the budget I can’t spend because we don’t have enough staff and they seem to think we go ghost hunting in pure gold suits or something?” he said, looking through the papers. “I’d much rather put it to use on a – well. Whatever that is.”
“Some sort of light, I think,” Draco said. “And that one’s a muggle saw. And Hermione was going on about personal protective equipment, whatever that is.”
“Hell if I know, but if it gets me Patil, as far as I’m concerned, it could be a bloody horcrux,” Harry said, signing the pages. He looked up to find Draco staring at him.
“Did you just make a joke about that?” he said.
“Er, yes,” Harry said. “Would you buy gallows humor?”
“If you’re joking about Voldemort, we’re bloody well taking Monday off too,” Draco said. “Delacour can probably just – I don’t know. Veela at anything that comes up.”
Harry laughed. “Surprisingly how well that seems to work, actually, it’s a shame Fleur’s busy living in Egypt and shagging Bill and having babies and all that.”
“God, don’t remind me,” Draco muttered. “Waste of perfectly outstanding talent.” He pulled up the chair. “I’m not sure about a few of these.”
“Really?” Harry said, starting to thumb through the folder. “Derekson and Audrey with Livingston? Draco, if you’ve just randomly sorted the names again, I will make you redo them. In front of me. That wasn’t even funny the first time.”
“Hardly,” Draco said. “I did say I wasn’t sure of a few. But Audrey’s utterly savage with casting and Livingston’s frankly about the only Unspeakable I’ve got who could match her. They don’t need someone better than Derekson at weaving if they can just overpower the bloody things and hold them.”
“He’s also a pureblooded arse and she’s a muggleborn Hufflepuff who makes Hermione look sweet when she’s hacked off,” Harry observed.
“On the bright side, Derekson’s nearly as boring and neutral as you are,” Draco said. “It could work.”
“You have words with him, I’ll have words with her, and maybe they’ll piss one another off so much they can channel it into the casting,” Harry said, initialing the assignment. “We can always swap it out mid-month if we’ve got to. Also, quit calling me boring.”
“Or they could just act like bloody adults,” Draco said. “Novel thought.”
Harry actually laughed. “We’re ones to talk,” he said.
“We haven’t killed one another yet,” Draco said, with a long glance at him. “That’s not to say I haven’t occasionally thought about it…”
“No, you just poison my tea,” Harry said. “Oh, that one’s better. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but it’ll work. Lawson’s miserable at weaving, but she did test well on the clairaudience portion of things. And I think she and Richardson get on, I’ve seen them getting coffee a few times.”
“They’re dating,” Draco said. “Strong observational skills there, Potter.”
“Oh, shut it,” Harry said. “You only know that because you’ve got some sort of gossip reporting system where everyone tells you things.”
“Actually, I saw them snogging in the stairwell, but same difference,” Draco said. “You’re really going to have to sign off on the next two, I think we’re going to have to split two Auror pairs, but Padma’s asked for Savage and Marks has a trauma assistance certification from Mungo’s, I think she’s the best liaison we’re going to get who isn’t Hermione.”
“Oh, hell,” Harry said. “I mean, yes, but I’m not putting their partners together, they get on about as well and you Hermione at Hogwarts. You’ll have to redo that match.”
“Maybe I’m performing some sort of arranged marriage service, you never know,” Draco teased.
“Or your Unspeakable is going to get so fed up with them she demands an assignment in some other department,” Harry said. “Give me some of the unmatched Auror pairs, maybe I can break up one of those.”
“Here,” Draco said, handing over a set of cards. “I’ll get a pot of tea. We’re going to be here a while.”
Harry laughed. “I suppose if you dose me with something again, you’re just going to hear about how I wish Harris would quit already,” he said. “And probably some going on about how I can’t find anyone for our bloody research team. You don’t even want to see the resumes.”
“Oh, well,” Draco said, pulling a card out of the unassigned Unspeakable pile. “That’s an easy fix. I’ll keep Greengrass in the office this month and put her on that and hiring for Padma. I was going to ask if you had any ideas about that anyway, I think she’s on the verge of keeling over from stress and lack of sleep. That was a miserable pairing last month, we ought to have pulled her sooner.”
“Utterly,” Harry agreed. “She worked in the Archives for quite a bit, didn’t she?”
“A year,” Draco said.
“She can bloody well work nine to five then if she can find me even one halfway decent person,” Harry said. “And send her some chocolates or something for having to spend an entire month with Harris and Fallow. I hope you’ve paired those two up with Bainbridge or something, I’ve half a mind to send them on any case that comes up that’s in the middle of a swamp or a briar patch or – I don’t know, we got that one on that boat the once, maybe a school of sharks?”
Draco laughed longer than Harry had expected. “Apparently our disdain for Bainbridge is mutual,” he said, looking amused, gesturing to the completed sets. “That’s already suggested. I’d left some comments about sticking them on middle of the night desk duty, but I think a feeding frenzy might be more appropriate.”
“Because he’s bloody well inept and a total prick,” Harry said. “No offense.”
“And Harris can take a long walk off a short pier,” Draco remarked. “I’ll make sure to tell whomever’s on assess and assign to give them as much mud as possible.”
“You know, I was planning on a conversation, but maybe I won’t,” Harry mused. “They’ll enjoy the cold and wet, I’ll enjoy them thinking they’ve got the worst luck on assignments in the world, and when Bainbridge sends you his dry cleaning tab at the end of the month, you can send it back with a nice note.”
“Quite Slytherin, really,” Draco said. “I like it. See if you can figure out anything else devious and horrible, I’ll get the tea.”
“So does this mean we get all the posh ones?” Harry said, laughing. “Pleasant ghosts, warm houses, that sort of thing?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Draco said. “Though I think it had better mean we get some time off, Hermione’s going to go on strike or form a one member union if we’re not careful.”
“Point taken,” Harry said. “Though if I start going stir crazy from trying to spend weekends lounging, someone had better at least allow me paperwork.”
“Or we’ll come up with horrific things to do to Weasley and then distract you,” Draco said, cheerfully.
“You’ve talked about this,” Harry said, with a sigh.
“Well, we thought we ought to have a contingency plan in case work was all that was holding you together and you became a maudlin wreck or something,” Draco said. “It was a reasonable discussion, though, don’t worry.”
“Maybe I can spend some of my newfound free time killing Hermione,” Harry muttered. “I can’t believe she found someone who actually enables all her meddling.”
“Tough luck,” Draco said. “Earl Grey or Darjeeling, do you think?”
“Earl Grey and piss off,” Harry said, without any real rancor. “And we’re ordering Chinese take out tonight. If I’m being maudlin, I’m being maudlin with actual dinner food.”
“You’re welcome for feeding you last night,” Draco said.
“Oh, for the love of god, these two broke up two months ago,” Harry said, glancing at the next folder. “How wonderful can this gossip network of yours possibly be?”
“Also seen snogging in the stairwell,” Draco said. “Maybe putting an Uncharmable Lock on that storage closet was a bad idea.”
“Apparently,” Harry said. “And apparently I need to find you something to do other than constantly watching the stairwell. Or occupying the stairwell.”
“It’s all right, Hermione and I mostly use your office,” Draco said. “In fact, that chair is –“
“About to be spelled to tip over if more than one person is in it unless it’s me and Hermione?” Harry said, mildly.
“That’s hardly fair, Hermione gets to share and you make everyone else find their own chairs?” Draco said. “I’m going to file some sort of discrimination claim.”
“Oh, all right, I’ll leave it alone, it’ll only tip if it’s two people and it doesn’t include me,” Harry said, scribbling some notes on the next file. “You can feel free to climb on me all you like.”
“I’m still working the Padma angle,” Draco said. “Just so you’re aware.”
“Excellent,” Harry said. “You can pass along that I’ll buy her more things if she doesn’t go off for apprenticeships in other countries ever again, I’m sure that will lead to office romance.”
“I don’t know, that saw thing did seem awfully romantic,” Draco said. “Maybe you can offer her some forceps or scalpels as a next step.”
“Go get the bloody tea,” Harry said, laughing.
“Darjeeling it is,” Draco said, brightly, and disappeared before Harry could throw anything at him.
Draco somehow managed to make setting the assignments entertaining rather than torture, and Harry was in a decent enough mood by the time that he left that he didn’t really mind having to spend another few hours filling out paperwork. He finalized all the pairings, filed the report from the night before, and got Padma reauthorized with broader access to the accounts and systems. It was only nine when Harry left the office, which was some sort of record, and he stopped on the way home to pick up a few bottles of wine and take out – even if Draco was making eggs for dinner again, at least they’d have some sort of variety.
“I’m home, I’ve brought dinner and some wine –“ Harry said, letting himself in and hanging his coat near the door, sending the food to the kitchen, but then he paused when he turned. He’d known Hermione and Draco had gone home, but he’d expected them to be – doing Hermione and Draco things, like cleaning the kitchen or reading on the couch that didn’t entirely fit Draco and meant they were constantly kicking one another’s feet, or maybe playing some complicated, traditional pureblood tile game that Harry didn’t even faintly understand but that Hermione had apparently taken to and seemed to enjoy, even if she lost to Draco nine times out of ten.
He’d been right about the couch, at least, though definitely not the reading, and as much as he tried not to stare, he couldn’t quite help it – Hermione’s work clothes were scattered all over the living room floor, and Draco’s jumper and shirt had ended up on the coffee table, and even his slacks were unzipped. Harry had been living with them for months, and he wasn’t enough of an idiot to miss what the casual hand Draco was always placing against the small of Hermione’s back meant. He’d seen the way she looked at Draco when he wasn’t paying attention, the same sort of fond exasperation he was so familiar with alongside a layer of something else. But Hermione was too skilled at silencing charms for the wall between their bedroom to be anything other than dead quiet at night, and Draco was probably the most private person he’d ever met about anything intimate – for all the jokes, Harry had only really seen them kissing in his office the once, and if he was perfectly honest, Hermione was more public in her touch with him than she was with Draco, even at home. Which didn’t entirely change the fact that they were all over one another on the couch, kissing, with Hermione in barely any clothing at all. Draco was flushed all the way down to his stomach, with a series of sharp bite marks near the hollow of his throat. His hands were tight against Hermione’s hips, like he was intent on keeping her close, and it wasn’t until the door clicked shut behind him that they both jumped, Hermione turning around quickly.
“Oh, god, Harry, I’m sorry,” she said, nearly stammering. He watched her look at the clock in the front entry, cheeks going even redder.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t keeping track of the time, and we’re never down here, and I –” she said, and Harry thought a little idly about how long they must have been there to miss it chiming ten o’clock.
“Sorry,” he said. “There’s food in the kitchen – I’m sorry to interrupt –“
“No, really, we –“ Hermione said.
“It’s all right, honestly,” Draco said, arm still wrapped around Hermione’s waist, and that was the worst part, that he wasn’t rushing to get dressed or trying to get out an apology. He just met Harry’s eyes evenly, like he wasn’t actually bothered, like nobody really had anything to be ashamed of because they were stupid, married adults in their own living room, and like it didn’t matter if Harry saw because somehow he belonged enough for Draco to let his guard down about all the usual awkward encounters that he’d been so carefully avoiding for months. Like it was normal when couples lived together. Like it had been before.
“I’ll just, ah,” Harry said. “I’ll be upstairs.”
“Harry,” Hermione said.
He didn’t slam the bedroom door and putting a fist through the wall was, Harry knew from experience, a lot less satisfying than it ever initially seemed, so he just sat on the bed and waited from the inevitable footsteps on the stairs.
“Harry –“ Hermione said, knocking on the door with her stupid soft knock, the one she only ever used when things had gotten completely cocked up, and Harry closed his eyes.
“I am not mad,” he said. “I’m not upset. I’m just going to go to bed early.”
“I know it was inconsiderate, and I’m so sorry, Harry –“
“Hermione,” he said. “Please let this one go.”
“Harry, if we could just talk –“ she said.
“Please just let this go,” he repeated. “I’m going to bed.”
There was a second set of footsteps on the stairs, and a lot of low arguing, which Harry finally decided he could ignore. Hermione wasn’t above undoing a lock, but he was reasonably certain that if it hadn’t happened already, it wasn’t going to. He set his boots next to the foot of the bed and lay down, staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t quite make out what anyone was saying, but Hermione’s tone was getting a little desperate. He would have felt guilty, but Harry really, honestly didn’t want to feel much of anything at all.
They finally moved away from his door, the conversation drifting far enough away that he couldn’t hear it, and enough time passed that even if Harry knew perfectly well he probably wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight, he could almost pretend examining every single imperfection in the ceiling’s paint job without really thinking about it was the same thing.
“Ow, fuck,” he heard, finally, after a spill of light from the hallway. “Potter, why in the bloody hell do you have this chest here? How have you not broken every single one of your toes?”
“Dunno, it keeps intruders out,” he said, without any real bite to it.
Draco finally stopped rubbing his foot, leaning against the wall for a minute. He was holding a book and wearing tracksuit bottoms and a Montrose Magpies t-shirt. “Well, it’s stupid and you should move it,” he said. “I need help with something.”
“You need help with something?” Harry said, pausing. “Did you just pick the lock because you’ve set a dish towel on fire again or something?”
“No, honestly, you two are never going to let me forget that, shove over,” Draco said, flopping down on the inside of the bed against the wall. “Hermione’s gotten me into these stupid – I don’t know, these muggle, what’s it called, across puzzles? Like half the things go across in these little blocks and half the things go down and then you fill them in –“
“Crossword puzzles,” Harry said.
“Well, yes, and apparently they’re popular with muggleborns or something, so Hermione got me a book of them from Flourish and Blott’s, right?” Draco said. “Only since they’re for muggleborns they have a bunch of muggle clues in them, and I’m not any good at that bit,” he said. “Is a blender oven a thing? Because it’s something ‘eroven.’ I do know what a blender is and I know what an oven is, we have one of those, but it mucks up all my down answers so I don’t think that’s it.”
“Draco,” Harry said, trying not to laugh hysterically. “Did you really just come in here to get me to explain what a toaster oven is?”
“Toaste –“ Draco said, then scribbled it down. “Thank god, I was right about those three then. What in the bloody hell is a toaster oven?”
“Er, you make toast in it,” Harry said.
“I thought that was a toaster,” Draco said, frowning.
“Well, yes, but –“ Harry sighed. “If you want to put cheese on your toast or something, you can’t very well put it in a toaster, can you?”
“No,” Draco said. “But then that’s what the broil setting on the oven is for. Hermione taught me.”
“Would you believe me if I told you it was an utterly superfluous muggle kitchen appliance that combines a toaster and an oven and takes up counter space?” Harry said.
“Completely, muggles seem to have a lot of those,” Draco said. “I guess it’s what comes of not having spells and having to do everything without house elves and having inferior –“ He glanced at the doorway, as if he’d suddenly realized Hermione could be listening in. “Er, inferior ideas about how to make toast.”
Harry snorted. “I thought you’d given up on that whole pureblood superiority thing,” he said.
“I have,” Draco said, sounding irritable. “I just don’t understand why muggles have to have so many idiotic things that make no sense and muck up the across puzzles. And yes, I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to have a house elf if I married her, but I wasn’t expecting to have to learn –“ He gestured expansively. “There are a lot of things to do if you don’t have house elves, all right? Like laundry. Washing machines were probably invented by Grindelwald.”
“Probably,” Harry said, dryly.
“I need help with –“ Draco considered. “Six more hints.”
“And you’re here to do a crossword puzzle with me,” Harry said.
“Yes,” Draco said.
“So we’re not going to –“ Harry said.
“You know,” Draco said, after a pause. “I really didn’t think it was possible there was someone worse about this than Hermione. I couldn’t fathom the idea of it. And then I met you and now I know exactly where she gets it from.”
“I think it’s probably vice versa,” Harry said, thoughtfully.
“Well, yes, but you’ve taken it to new levels,” Draco said. “You saw us snogging on the couch, Hermione thinks you’re put out because you feel unwelcome or something, I think you’re being a sulky prat who should have just taken my offer to do the across words,” he said, then paused. “Crossword. Whichever.”
“I’m not sulking -“ Harry said.
“Oh, yes, lying here in the dark by yourself and being all martyr-like because you won’t let me fix you up with Padma so you can snog on the sofa instead of us is mature and adult and not at all sulky,” Draco said. “Alternatively, you really are that uptight about sex.”
“Oh my god, it’s just a Ginny thing, I’m not horrified or something,” Harry protested, then paused. “Goddamn it.”
“You’re sort of easy,” Draco said, cheerfully. “You get wildly offended when anyone accuses you of acting like a normal human being and fall right into it.”
“You just played that entire thing straight, didn’t you,” Harry said, without any real irritation.
“Yes,” Draco said. “Well, apart from the bit about Hermione, she won’t listen to me and I’ve gotten yelled at four times because she feels guilty for snogging on the couch and, through a mechanism that I don’t entirely understand, apparently traumatizing you for life. So are we talking about this Weasley thing or not? Because if it’s not, you’re helping me with my crossword.”
“Not?” Harry hazarded.
“I was only trying to give you a chance to choose it on your own, you’d better just come out with it,” Draco said, with a sigh. “Otherwise we’re going to get through two clues and then you’re going to tell me even though you think you don’t want to because it’s what you lot do, I’m used to it by now, but I want to finish my puzzle all at once, so I’m not doing two hints while you decide. I’ll just wait.”
“You know,” Harry said. “You’re not any good at reading ghosts. You’re just good at reading people.”
“That’s logically inconsistent,” Draco said. “Ghosts were people. Ergo, I’m perfectly excellent at reading ghosts because I’m excellent at reading people.”
Harry lay back down, looking at the ceiling again. “Okay,” he said. “We’ve been partners for a year and I’ve lived here for a while and nothing’s changed, so why are you being all friendly? Hermione can’t have lectured you into it, she’s probably been trying since the start.”
“No,” Draco said, slowly. “I thought about it. And I thought – well, you were in front of me the other night, right? And you’d have made easy prey, you’re susceptible to ghosts suggesting things.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, but Draco wasn’t entirely wrong. There was a reason he wasn’t their contact point.
“We’d probably have been all right, Hermione was there,” Draco said. “But if I’d needed to get you out of there on my own, I don’t think I’d have had the faintest idea what to say.” He shrugged. “I didn’t like that. I asked Hermione, who pointed out that I wasn’t likely to get far myself if I didn’t trust you, because I would hold back.” He considered. “Being married is sort of strange, you know, someone knows all these things about you that you know but you never thought anyone else would.”
“I think that’s being married to Hermione,” Harry said. “Or maybe to someone where it’s a partnership, I don’t bloody know.”
“Well, she was right, so I thought about it more, and I do already sort of trust you,” Draco said. “You’ve never done anything since we started working together to suggest that you weren’t a trustworthy person. So I tried it with that potion, and you were fine, so I decided I would trust you more.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Harry said, after a pause.
“Of course it is,” Draco said, looking a little offended.
“Right,” Harry said, clearing his throat. “So now you trust me, so we’re going to be… friends?”
“Yes?” Draco said, as if the whole thing was completely obvious. “I thought we were already friends. Does all this have something to do with Weasley?”
“No,” Harry said. “Yes? Maybe. I’ve got no idea.”
“Those are all mutually exclusive answers, Potter,” Draco said. “You might want to pick one.”
“Most people don’t just decide to trust someone completely,” Harry pointed out.
“Well, that’s daft, why wouldn’t you just know? I didn’t waffle about it with Pansy or Padma or Parvati or Hermione or Blaise and that’s all turned out perfectly fine.”
“Okay, right, but it’s different,” Harry pointed out. “Than before, I mean.”
“Yes?” Draco said. Harry was starting to feel as if he was having a conversation with someone who spoke a completely different language.
“Draco, you’ve gone and – flipped everything around in two days,” Harry said. “You’ve tolerated me for a year, or maybe only a little better. Now you’re treating me like I’m – like you treat people you really care for.”
“Yes?” Draco hazarded, sounding a little less sure of the answer.
“It’s been two days,” Harry repeated.
“It’s been over a year,” Draco said. “And you were already someone I cared for. I took too long to decide to show it, but that’s neither here nor there, it doesn’t change it.” He paused. “Do you not want to be friends?”
“No, that’s not –“ Harry sat up, putting his head in his hands. It was spinning, and he hadn’t even had anything to drink, which was starting to seem appealing. “It hasn’t been a wonderful year,” he said, finally. “Hermione is about the only person who hasn’t left. Well, and Neville and that sort of thing, but it’s not as if I can pop ‘round and visit him every weekend. And I was fine with you tolerating me and her caring about me, I knew where everything was, only you’re completely different when you – care for someone versus whatever it was you were doing before, and I wasn’t counting on anything before, so I – it’s a rather abrupt change.”
“Oh,” Draco said. “Well, yes, I know. But Hermione liked it when I decided to trust her, so I thought it might be all right with you too. You’re rather alike. But I can…” He paused, as if he was thinking something through. “I suppose I could try to pretend it was gradual or something. I’m not sure how talented at it I’d be, but if you’d like.”
“No, don’t,” Harry said. “Please don’t.”
“Potter, you are incomprehensible,” Draco said, with a sigh.
“How do you think I feel?” Harry muttered.
“What do you want with me, and why are you so upset over Weasley?” Draco said.
“Friends, but not if you’re going to change your mind in two more days,” Harry said, a little warily.
“I don’t do that,” Draco said. “You know me well enough to know that by now. In fact, it’s not as if you don’t know me, there are just parts I’ve kept back. Like – not feeling as if I constantly had to be on my best behavior for a guest, and crossword puzzles, and all that.” He considered. “Oh, all right, I suppose I only touch people I don’t trust if I have to, and now we’re sharing your bed, which is awful, you ought to have told Hermione to get a new one.”
Harry snorted. “It’s fine,” he said. “I – it’s fine. I mean. The bed.”
“Therefore, I’m going to do what I like as if there weren’t guests around since you live here and aren’t a guest, which includes snogging my wife on the sofa and getting you to do puzzles and chess with me, and not pretending I like those awful scones you make.”
“Yeah, those are pretty bad, honestly,” Harry said.
“God, stop making them and we’ll just order something from the bakery,” Draco said. “And since I’m going to assume that you’re not a complete idiot and you know that we have sex, what’s the problem?”
“I miss Ginny, all right?” Harry said, finally. “I miss – fuck, I don’t know, feeling like that with someone else. And it’s awful, all right? Because maybe if I’d been better somehow, then things would be all right, and if I’d paid more attention, then she wouldn’t have – felt like she had to get my attention.”
“No,” Draco said, low. “Absolutely not. You don’t get to betray someone’s confidence and trust and the faith that they’ve placed in a vow, just to make a scene. You don’t get to behave like some sulky little girl because it turned out that Harry Potter was a human being and not Prince bloody Charming. How long did she know you, Harry? Hell, as long as Hermione has. A bit longer, even. But she didn’t see you, she saw what she wanted to see, and she married what she wanted to see without bothering to look past it to the real person there.” He paused. “You might consider that I have some experience seeing someone and marrying them because of who they are and not who they look like. Hermione is hardly what I was expecting for my life. But once I saw her, I knew that no one else was ever going to make me feel the way she made me feel, so I stepped up and did what I needed to do so that I would never lose that. So we wouldn’t lose that.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, a little hoarsely. “I don’t – I think it’s pretty clear Ginny didn’t…”
“Well, no, because she was –“ Draco paused. “Harry, you’ve got to think about the people who do know you and who have seen you and what they think. Hermione loves you more than anything. I’m fairly sure she will always love you more than me, but I’m perfectly all right with that because I’ve seen what she sees, and if I’d been through what you two have gone through, I would feel the same way.”
“Ron did,” Harry said, finally. “At least, I thought he had.”
“He did,” Draco agreed. “And then his bint of a sister made him choose between the two of you, and he chose her, which in my opinion was the wrong decision, but we clearly don’t share the same value system. And somewhere in there, Hermione realized they weren’t right for one another, and he hated her for that and I suspect hated her a hell of a lot more for being with me, because he’s the sort of person who will always see it as her picking me over him. And you didn’t hate her, which I’m sure he thought was just to spite him. So I imagine that influenced his decision. And it really is his loss.” Draco laughed, leaning back against Harry’s pillows. Harry paused, a little taken aback.
“Sorry,” Draco said. “I just think it’s idiotic, really. The real you is far better than whatever stupid made up fantasy everyone else had going on. Although I doubt they’ve been wading around in frozen swamps with you and lurking on roofs in blizzards and getting the bloody stomach flu half way through an assignment so you’re throwing up every fifteen minutes while trying to get a stupid revenant.”
“That was awful,” Harry said. “Why the bloody hell didn’t we call that?”
“Because it was my job to call that and I’m about as stubborn as you lot,” Draco said. “My point is, you’re funny and kind and, you know, that stupid saying Hermione likes about being a good man in a storm, and I’d much rather be married to someone like that than some prissy celebrity. So quit acting like you did something wrong.”
“I worked a lot,” Harry said, finally. “Too much, probably.”
“And she couldn’t have said something?” Draco said. “I don’t know, ‘We’re taking the bloody weekend off if it kills us and if you try to go to work I’m literally going to attach you and Harry to the floor?’”
Harry laughed. “Hermione’s – well, honestly, nicer, so Ginny probably could have, yeah.”
“I am legitimately sorry that you miss her,” Draco said, meeting his eyes. “But I also think you’re better off without someone who was with you for all the wrong reasons, no matter how in love with her you were. Grieve whatever it is you need to grieve, but I think Hermione’s going to actually go insane if you keep trying to shut everyone out while you do it.”
“I know,” Harry said, finally. “I – really know. And that thing about being around people who aren’t pretending I’m something else is probably… not the worst advice I’ve ever been given.”
“Damning me with faint praise,” Draco said, laughing, then spun his wand, whispering something to a glowing, translucent hummingbird before he blew on it and it sped downstairs.
“You know, I don’t think I know that spell,” Harry said.
“You were probably smart enough not to spend the first two weeks you lived with Hermione shouting up and down stairs at her because you weren’t used to not having house elves to send messages,” Draco said, dryly.
“I’m not sure how effective that would have been in Gryffindor tower,” Harry mused.
“Draco?” Hermione said, coming up the stairs. “Is everything all –“
She paused in the doorway, looking startled. “What –“ she paused, hesitating with her hand on the doorknob. “He let you in? Harry, do you… want me here?”
“What sort of exceedingly stupid question is that?” Draco said, holding out a hand. “Of course he does.”
“He picked the lock and then double crossed me like the bloody Slytherin he is,” Harry muttered.
“I still don’t understand how that always seems to work for you,” Hermione said, still waiting across the room. “Harry, are – I was tremendously thoughtless, and I’m so sorry, and I really do understand if you’re angry –“
“Hermione,” Draco said.
“Do you really think he’d be lounging about in my pillows if I were angry?” Harry said.
“Well,” Hermione said.
“Darling, the correct answer is no, if you require assistance with that question,” Draco said. “Come over here.”
“Harry?” Hermione said, a little more firmly.
“I was upset about Ginny,” he said, quietly. “But not about you. Never about you. So come here.”
“Oh?” Hermione said, and came, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Oh, well, when Harry asks you to do it,” Draco said, bemused.
“Shut up,” Hermione said. Harry inhaled, then reached, pulling her away from the edge and close to him so he could hug her tightly, resting his forehead against hers.
“I’ve been sort of an idiot,” he said.
“It’s all right, because I’m utterly lost,” Hermione said. “What on earth is Draco doing in here, and why aren’t you angry, and what’s any of this got to do with Ginny?”
“We were talking,” Harry said. “He made some compelling arguments. Along with pointing out that I haven’t been nearly as grateful for you as I ought to have been.”
“Draco,” Hermione said.
“I didn’t say that,” Draco said. “I merely pointed out that you were infinitely superior to Weasley, who I’m considering locking in the interrogation room with something nasty.”
“Not in total disagreement, actually,” Harry said, pulling Hermione in tighter. “I’m still in love with her, but I’m not entirely certain that she was ever actually in love with me, and the whole thing is awful. And I’ve been working too bloody hard. But that’s not an excuse for shutting you out.” He inhaled. “I am not, historically, particularly skilled at realizing when I’m in over my head.”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, fondly, reaching up to stroke a hand through his hair. “You’re not. But it’s all right. I’m sorry we upset you.”
“Apparently that was some sort of idiotic Draco Malfoy trust exercise,” Harry said. “Where did you find him, by the way? He’s awfully strange.”
“Lurking about in the archives,” Hermione said, laughing. “I know, I should have known better.”
“That’s hardly what I said,” Draco muttered.
“Oh, all right, Draco’s decided to trust me so he’s going to stop being polite so I suppose I’m going to have to get used to walking in on you two on the sofa,” Harry said, with a put-upon sigh.
“Damn, the fact that makes sense is probably an awful sign,” Hermione said. She held out a hand to Draco, tangling their fingers together, and settled against Harry’s side, turning so she could put her legs over Draco as well. “Setting aside the rest of it, are you okay?”
“No,” Harry said, honestly. “But I’m a lot better than I was. And I’m much better with you here. I love you.”
“He said, to my wife, who was nearly in his lap,” Draco said, stretching. “Fortunately, I know Potter’s got absolutely terrible taste in women.”
“I really do,” Harry said.
“Darling, I’m revising my plan,” Draco said.
“Your –“ Hermione said, then considered. “Oh. Well, you’ve gotten this far. But if he hexes you, it’s not my fault.”
“Before you got home early and had a divorce related crisis,” Draco said, rolling his eyes, “I was planning to make sure you got a decent night’s sleep. I thought Hermione could stay in here. That’s why I told you to consider that solved.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “I couldn’t possibly –“
“No, you’re right, because this bed is terrible, and because you’re completely daft if you think I’m letting you think you’ve only got her or whatever other idiotic thing you’re liable to come up with if left alone in your own head for more than thirty seconds,” Draco said. “So I’m revising my plan, we’re going to go eat Chinese food before I starve to death, and have wine, and then we’re going to go sleep in our functional bed, and you’re going to shut it because you’ve been stupid enough tonight.”
“Er,” Harry said. “That’s sort of weird, isn’t it? I mean – when it was Ginny, we were married -“
“Well, Hermione and I are married, so there will be multiple married people present,” Draco said. “Happy?”
“That wasn’t really what I meant,” Harry said.
“I am extremely tired of no one getting what they need,” Draco said, quietly. “So you’re going to take what I’m offering, and it will make Hermione feel better, and I’ll feel better if Hermione feels better and if I know you’re all right. And your way has made a complete mess of things, and Hermione’s too nice by half, so I’m calling it and you’re going to listen for once in your bloody life.”
“Okay,” Harry said, finally.
“Really?” Hermione said, pausing, then laughed, tilting her head back against Harry’s shoulder. “Thanks, Harry, now I owe Draco ten galleons.”
“It should be double since I got him to agree to both of us,” Draco said, smugly.
“There wasn’t any bet on you,” Hermione said. “Possibly because the idea is so insane it hadn’t even occurred to me.”
“He says we’re friends now,” Harry said. “I think friends might mean something different in Slytherin, you probably ought to keep an eye on him and Pansy.”
“Quite married,” Draco said, mildly. “That’s beneath you, Potter.”
“Yes, and you just tried to argue that I should like it when you trusted me because Hermione liked it when you trusted her,” Harry said, trying not to laugh.
“You’re both –“ Draco waved a hand. “Gryffindors and weirdly loyal and fond of shortbread and you have a great deal of personality traits in common, I don’t see what you mean. Why wouldn’t it be comparable?”
“Are we sure they don’t perform brain surgery on Slytherin first years?” Harry said. “He’s not getting this.”
“I think he actually doesn’t,” Hermione said, who actually was laughing. “Different value systems, Harry.”
“You know I’m not going to try to twist my head around to figure out what you mean,” Draco said. “So either tell me or drop it.”
“You were dating Hermione,” Harry said.
“Yes?” Draco said.
Hermione laughed again, sliding over into his lap and leaning in for a kiss, though she glanced back at Harry. “Darling, typically trust is an important step in romantic relationships that means things are becoming serious.”
“And that’s different from friendships how?” Draco said, wrapping an arm around her waist again, though he kept his shoulder against Harry’s.
“Oh, I suppose,” Hermione said. “Harry, he just divides everyone into ‘his’ or ‘not his,’ you’ll have to get used to it.”
“Apparently,” Harry said.
“Come on, come back downstairs,” Draco said. “We can have food and I’ve already switched out the bottles so you won’t notice that we’re drinking better wine. And I can get all six of my clues if I’ve got both of you to help. Maybe we can play tiles if we finish. ”
“One would hope,” Hermione said, amused. “It’s not that late if we’re sleeping in tomorrow, we could play something else.”
“So long as it’s not strip poker, since apparently Draco has relationship boundary issues,” Harry joked.
“Strip poker?” Draco said. “Hermione, that the place in America? Las Vegas? It has a strip, doesn’t it? Does it come from there? Don’t muggles do gambling things there?”
Hermione burst out laughing. “Don’t you dare ruin his innocence,” she said to Harry, climbing over them both. “I’m going to go heat up the food and get the wine. I’ll see you downstairs.”
“Right, so,” Draco started, once she was off the stairs.
“Absolutely not,” Harry said, firmly. “But by all means, suggest it at the office Christmas party and see if you get any takers.”
“I didn’t think this through,” Draco mused, finally. “There are two of you. You’re going to team up against me.”
“Or you and Hermione will team up on me because you’re married, or you and I will team up on Hermione because she’s Hermione,” Harry pointed out. “There are plenty of combinations in there that don’t involve two Gryffindors, don’t worry.”
“I should see if Padma needs a place to stay for a while, you two could make use of the couch,” Draco suggested, though it was clear he was teasing. “Then I won’t be outnumbered.”
“You’ll still be outnumbered at work, and no, thanks,” Harry said, but he was laughing. “Though I’m starting to wonder what’s behind this obsession with me and Padma.”
“She’s a nice, sensible Ravenclaw?” Draco said. “Extremely fit? Likes books and isn’t traumatized by dead people? And she thinks you’re a normal human being? All right, I suppose she and Hermione have some bets going about if it’s possible for anyone else to be as thick about wizarding anatomy as you are, but I don’t think she’s entranced by your shiny war hero medals or anything.”
“How do people even know those exist?” Harry said. “Seriously. They are hidden. Extraordinarily well hidden.”
“I’ll just check under the mattress,” Draco said.
“You would find some inappropriate magazines, a few galleons, and a bunch of chocolate frog cards,” Harry said, gesturing. “Be my guest.”
“What are you, fifteen?” Draco said. “You have a desk and bookshelves and things. You know hiding charms. I’ve transfigured all of mine into something Hermione won’t bother reading.”
“There is nothing Hermione won’t bother reading,” Harry said.
“Quidditch playbooks,” Draco said, sounding sort of smug. He paused. “Although it was more of an intellectual victory, really, because –“
“She really doesn’t care?” Harry said. “Yes. I’m aware. I was a teenager with her. I’ve received every sexuality lecture she’s ever come up with.”
“I think that might be horrifying,” Draco said, considering.
“It’s definitely horrifying,” Harry said, firmly. “Trust me, you do not want to learn about the existence of sex from your twelve year old best friend who is a girl.”
“There might be advantages, though,” Draco mused. “If you’re learning from a girl, you’d get a jump start, wouldn’t you? And then you can outcompete everyone else for girls.”
Harry tried not to laugh. “Yes, I absolutely used all of Hermione’s lectures on healthy sexuality with the one person I’ve slept with,” he said, trying to sound light and mostly failing. “Not.”
“Oh, god,” Draco said. “Well, that’s they most depressing thing I’ve heard lately.”
“And way to hit a bloke while he’s down,” Harry said.
“No, all the –“ Draco gestured. “Red hair and freckles and – well, that mental image is probably seared into my memory for all of eternity.”
“Hermione has freckles,” Harry pointed out.
“Yes, in summer. On her nose,” Draco said. “I keep suggesting Padma because she’s nice and if it worked out it wouldn’t be because of your idiotic war medals and if it didn’t, it would just be that you weren’t the right people for one another. Nothing to do with anything else. Which is what you want, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “But I’m not sure I want it yet.”
“Fair enough,” Draco agreed, getting up. “But only if you’re still sorting things out. Not if you’re running scared.”
“I like that you think that’s an easy distinction,” Harry said.
“You’ll know,” Draco said. “You’ll think about it and it will be with someone who isn’t her, or –“ He shrugged. “You’ll look at someone and want them, or who knows, maybe someone will surprise you under the mistletoe at said office Holiday party and you won’t hate it.”
“That almost makes sense,” Harry said. “How is it that I’m taking all this advice from you, exactly?”
“Best available alternative,” Draco said, laughing. “I do figure out what people want for a living, you know, even when they don’t know themselves.”
“You’ve just made yourself sound like some sort of ghost psychotherapist,” Harry said.
“I’ll have to put that on my business cards,” Draco said. “Come on, I’m famished.”
Harry was a little surprised to find that, in spite of everything, he was almost happy. They plowed through most of the food, Hermione threw bits of fortune cookie at Draco when he wasn’t looking, and they’d made their way through a few bottles of wine before Hermione hauled out the stupid tile set.
“I literally don’t understand the rules,” Harry said, but he was tipsy enough not to really mind, and he found if he wasn’t really thinking about everything, he could remember most of what he’d been taught. There was a random spread of tiles on the table, some that fell together and others that were alone, and then everyone got a set. They were colored, and certain color combinations did things to other color combinations – just like in wizarding chess, you could steal other player’s sets, or eliminate them, at which point the tiles would – somewhat sulkily, since Draco’s set was rather old and still had what he referred to as “character” – remove themselves from the table.
Harry’s problem was always remembering the bloody color combinations, but he found that if he cleared his mind and focused on the tiles, it was a little like weaving – he could figure out what would work, and whether he had it in front of him.
“Seriously, Potter?” Draco demanded, when Harry had used three tiles to coerce an entire set of ten of Draco’s into his pile. “I don’t even know that move. I’d accuse you of making it up, but it worked, so I suppose it’s somewhere in the rules.”
“One, drunk,” Harry said, amused. “Two, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, I did make that up.”
“Obviously you could have done quite well in divination if you’d attended every class sloshed,” Hermione said.
“Or I could have just seen death omens in literally every cup of tea and gotten full marks, that seemed to work pretty well,” Harry said, considering. “Then again, we were always nearly getting killed, maybe she wasn’t so bad.”
“It does have some uses,” Draco pointed out.
“Only in really talented clairvoyants and clairsentients,” Harry said. “Why are we talking about work?”
“You started it,” Hermione said. “I think if I just –“ she said, trying to play two tiles, which promptly resettled in her pile. “Damn it.”
“That’s not going to work, you’ve got to –“ Harry said, reaching over and taking them back to drop on a rather large pile of tiles toward one side, all of which turned red and got tossed into Hermione’s pile.
“One, I’ve been working on turning those for the last four turns,” Draco said. “Two, you can’t help her, that’s cheating. Three, I think he’s secretly been reading the rule book.”
“No, I think your tiles are feeling chatty,” Harry said.
“Truce and we decimate him?” Hermione suggested.
“Done,” Harry said, which only took about four more rounds.
“You’re awful,” Draco complained, glancing at the tiles. “And you lot are traitorous prats, my bloodlines are far superior.”
“You said this wasn’t like chess,” Hermione said, eyes narrowing.
“Well, it’s not exactly,” Draco said. “But with a set this old, the tiles do play favorites a bit, and, er, it’s sort of fond of purebloods. You know. Inherited and all.” He paused. “I didn’t want you to think I had some sort of anti-muggleborn tile set. It was a gift from my grandmother.”
Hermione looked torn between outrage and amusement. “So you’ve been cheating this entire time.”
“No,” Draco protested. “Well, all right, a little, but think of all the times you’ve won, that meant you did really well.”
“I’m buying my own and I’m going to murmur sweet nothings at them until they side with me every time,” Hermione said. “Hah. We’ll see how much winning you do then.”
“Well, given that my set seems to have decided it’s with Harry, I’m not so sure that’s worth the bother,” Draco said. “They’re rather temperamental.”
“All right, I’ll murmur sweet nothings and take my top off,” Hermione said.
“Does that work on tiles?” Harry hazarded.
“No idea, but I’m not saying no,” Draco said, leaning back.
“I think she meant the new set,” Harry said. “Because this set is obviously friends with me.”
“Hermione might be able to win them over,” Draco said.
Hermione rolled her eyes, looking faintly exasperated. “Harry’s already seen me in my knickers enough for one day, don’t you think?”
“No such thing,” Draco said. “Bugger, who opened that last bottle? And why is our bedroom upstairs?”
“You, and I have no idea,” Harry said, with a yawn. “Are you still set on all the exceedingly weird bed sharing?”
“Oh, that,” Draco said. “Given that I forgot about it and just assumed you were coming with us, probably.”
“You know, I know you’re fond of me now, but we can’t do literally everything together,” Harry said, amused.
“No, you can fuck off while we’re shagging and for horrible paperwork,” Draco agreed. “And disciplinary meetings with Bainbridge, those are all yours.”
Hermione snorted. “Good thing I don’t mind since I don’t get a vote,” she teased. “But how are we supposed to come up with plans to make Harry less depressed if he’s there?”
“Oh, fine, you can go off and –“ Draco gestured. “I don’t know. Do whatever it is you like doing alone. Occasionally. Or we could multitask during the other times, I suppose.”
“I can’t tell whether you mean we should devise plans to cheer up Harry during sex or whether we’re supposed to do it while he’s stuck at the office doing paperwork,” Hermione said, standing up and leaning over for a kiss. She was laughing against Draco’s mouth. “You do like to talk, but I’m not sure how effective that one’s going to be at getting either of us off.”
“I hadn’t gotten that far,” Draco said, loftily. “Sometimes plans have to start somewhere.”
“I think she’s the most sober,” Harry decided. “Because she’s standing. And not talking about holding me hostage. Although she is talking about sex, that might mean she’s drunk.”
“No, that means she knows I don’t care,” Draco said. He tugged Hermione down for another kiss. “Since you’re in my – whatever category that was. Hermione?”
“It’s like a bloody coven or something,” Hermione said. “And yes, I’m joking about it because you won’t get all bent out of shape, whereas if I’d tried it last week you’d have been all cold and stiff for god knows how long.”
“I’m not that bad,” Draco said.
“You really are, darling,” Hermione said.
“I’m with her,” Harry said. “You’re touchy about sex jokes.”
“Says the person who had a whole melt down over seeing two people snogging,” Draco said.
“One, you were doing more than snogging, and two, er,” Harry said, pausing. “I had an argument formed and then it drifted away. Something about not being uptight, just not wanting to get reminded about all the married sex I am not currently having.”
“He’s moping about not having sex with Weasley or something,” Draco said. “Can you tell him it’s ludicrous? It’s Weasley. Who’d want to do that?”
Hermione snorted. “Well, I did, although with a different one,” she said. “Okay, possibly two different ones.”
“What?” Harry said.
“I knew about the one,” Draco said, wrinkling his nose. “What’s with you lot? There’s no appeal there. None.”
“I was royally pissed off regarding someone’s behavior over our break up and I was also exceedingly drunk on some sort of grain alcohol that probably ought to be outlawed,” Hermione said. “It may have been outlawed for all I know.”
“That seems quite gentlemanly,” Draco said.
“No, he was equally foxed,” Hermione said. “And Harry passed out under a table.”
“Oh my god, that was Romania,” Harry said. “Hermione!”
“It was perfectly kosher, we’d been broken up for months, honestly,” she said. “Nobody gets to tell me who I can and can’t have sex with, and also, if you’re going to accuse anyone of cocking that one up, I’m not the one who slept with his brother’s ex-girlfriend, that was entirely on Charlie.”
“Touché,” Draco said. “But you did sleep with two of them. Not that I mind, we weren’t together, I’m just wondering whether someone was slipping something in the water in Gryffindor tower or something. There really isn’t any appeal.”
“One was a marked improvement in bed and didn’t mind smart witches,” Hermione said. “I’m not asking for take backs on exceptional sex with a Weasley who has not theoretically taken any sides in any relationships. He did owl you on your birthday, Harry. So did Bill.”
“We could maybe just –“ Harry said, stretching out on the floor and waving a hand. “Do we really need to be talking about all my ex-in-laws? Let alone sex with them?”
“No, definitely not,” Draco said. “I’ll rephrase. Harry’s moping about not having soppy married sex. With a theoretical someone whom he is… fond of? Sorry, Harry, I tried.”
“Fuck,” Hermione said. “I signed up for tiles, not being some sort of sex therapist or something.”
Draco looked at her. “Since when do you turn down offering counsel to anyone over anything,” he said.
Hermione gave him a look, summoning another bottle of wine from the kitchen. “Because I hate Ginny, so I can’t actually regret the fact that Harry’s not having sex with her.” She sighed. “I made an effort, Harry, really, I did, but I can’t help it, I can’t stand her.”
“Actually, fair,” Harry said. “She did cheat on me with one of her league mates in my bloody bed. They could at least have been at his flat or something. It still would have been awful, but at least I wouldn’t have mental images of it. Now I can’t read any Quidditch magazines in case he’s in them.”
“Well, you either miss sex or you don’t, and if you do then go do something about it,” Hermione said, pouring another glass of wine.
“Hey,” Harry said, feeling suddenly irritable. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Well, it’s true,” Hermione said.
“I never once said –“ Harry said.
“Are you cross at him?” Draco said, then paused. “Wait. You are. Or –“
“Oh, delightful,” Harry said. “Is Draco the only one who isn’t somehow pissed off at me over not being over Ginny already?”
Hermione and Draco exchanged an exceptionally long look that Harry found he was definitely too drunk to interpret, given that he wasn’t entirely sure he could have translated it sober.
“You and I are talking later,” Draco said. “Or we’re talking now, in the kitchen, with several sobering charms. You choose.”
“What am I, twelve?” Hermione snapped. “Are you sending me to bed without dessert as well?”
“Okay, okay, it’s fine, not a problem,” Harry said, firmly. “We definitely do not have to discuss Ginny or any Weasleys or my sex life or your sex life or – anything. Um.” He considered. “Draco and I are going to go play Quidditch tomorrow in the park. That’s not at work. You wanted – that’s time off, right?”
“Hermione,” Draco said, quietly, and leaned in for a kiss. Harry watched her let her breath out against his mouth, shoulders lowering a little.
“It’s all right, Harry, I get that sex and intimacy are two different things,” she said. “I just wish I could –“ She paused, stretching out beside him so she could set her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry you feel so rotten about the entire thing. And that you got hurt. And that I guess you feel like you haven’t… gotten to have any of that yet.”
“That’s okay,” Harry said, wrapping an arm around her. “Things happen. Life moves on. Draco will probably wear me down on going on dates with Padma. I’m sorry I upset you earlier.”
“Really, Draco,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “She’s been back for five minutes and he hasn’t even signed the divorce papers.”
“I thought, er,” Harry said. “But you just said I should –“
“You know, the bed is more comfortable than the floor,” Draco said. “We could go get in it.”
“Bugger, stairs,” Harry said, with a sigh. “But okay.”
Getting upstairs wasn’t that bad, though Harry was rather grateful for the railing, but it was still strange to head into the wrong bedroom. It wasn’t as if Harry had never seen Hermione and Draco’s bedroom, but he certainly hadn’t been in it at night, or really every looked at anything that closely; usually, he was sticking his head in to get the answer to a question or to remind one of them that it was time for dinner. In the low light of the lamp on Hermione’s bedside table, it struck Harry that although he’d never been surprised by Hermione and Draco, he’d never spent much time thinking about the overlap between the two of them. Their bedroom was somehow at the intersection of it. There were more bookshelves than Harry had seen in most regular libraries, but for once, the books obviously weren’t all Hermione’s. It was warm and welcoming, but most of the furniture was more ornate than Harry would have imagined Hermione choosing, aside from the large armchair by the fireplace, which somehow didn’t seem all that out of place. He recognized the quilt from Hermione’s bed at Hogwarts and when they’d all lived together, constellations on a dark blue background, but the art on the walls felt like Draco, with clear lines and stark contrasts. There was a painting of Hogwarts, lights shining in the windows, and a charcoal sketch that he only realized was Hermione when the drawing looked over her shoulder at him, eyes dark. There were snitches in cases in one nook – Harry had forgotten Draco collected them – and notebooks full of Hermione’s handwriting scattered on an end table near the window seat.
“It’s a bed, Potter, surely you’ve seen one before,” Draco said, sitting down to pet Crookshanks, who was curled up amongst the pillows. He opened his eyes, glancing at Harry, and returned to purring vaguely at Draco, rubbing up against his hand for more attention.
“It’s nice?” Harry hazarded, still lingering just inside of the doorway, until Hermione rolled her eyes.
“It’s not off limits, Harry,” she said, wrapping a firm hand around his wrist to pull him across the threshold. She summoned pyjama pants and a shirt from his room, handing them over. “Draco, you’d better take first turn across the hall, I’m not sure we’ll get him back in here.”
“Oh, all right,” Draco said, yawning. “I’ll be back, cat. Don’t think you’re getting my pillow again.”
“He loses that one every bloody night,” Hermione said, laughing, when Draco had left for the washroom, and Harry sat tentatively on the edge of the bed. Crookshanks yawned and stretched, coming over to rub against his side, and Hermione laughed, casting a spell at the fireplace.
“What, did you miss Harry since breakfast?” she said. “It’s your own fault for staying up here.”
Crookshanks made a vague, protesting noise that Harry somehow gathered to mean that he hadn’t wanted to be part of any commotion, and butted Harry with his head.
“Are you sure you’re all right with all this?” Harry said, finally.
“You’re asking me and not Draco?” Hermione said.
“I’m sure of him,” Harry said, thoughtfully. “Not that I’m not –“ He sighed. “Draco does what he pleases, if he didn’t want it, he wouldn’t insist on it.”
“True,” Hermione said. “But I rather think you ought to be sure of me as well.”
“I know,” Harry murmured, finally. “I am, actually.” He wasn’t surprised to find out that he meant it, that looking at Hermione felt just as much like home as it always had, if he let himself actually feel it. “Would you believe me if I said I think I’ve made myself numb for long enough that it’s going to take a while for the feeling to come back?”
“Yes,” Hermione said, looking fondly exasperated. “But your heart is hardly going to get pins and needles, Harry. You don’t have to take forever to let me back in.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Although you seem to have moved rather fast on that front with Draco.”
“Damn,” Harry said, softly. “No.” He leaned across the bed, realizing a little too late that crossing it wasn’t really going to be feasible, so he stretched out instead, pulling hard until Hermione laid down beside him. “I love you. And you’re stubborn.” He laughed softly. “But you had to have noticed that he just pretends the rules don’t apply to him. He just – shoved aside all the walls I didn’t realize I’d put up, all right? Don’t be jealous.”
“I’m not – oh, all right, I am,” Hermione said, propping herself up on one elbow to look down at him. “Should I have done this differently, Harry? I’ve been trying for so long, and it seems like he’s only tried for five minutes, and I don’t know what on earth the difference is on getting you to come out of your own head.”
“Being insufferable?” Harry hazarded, sitting up enough that he could cup her face, leaning to kiss her forehead. “I love you best of all. And I always have, and I’m always going to.” He laughed. “Rather large point of contention with Ginny, really, she didn’t get it. Draco does. But I need you to be you, not him. He can be him.”
Hermione laughed softly, leaning into his touch. “You’re drunk, but that nearly made sense,” she said. “I love you, too.”
“I wouldn’t have been ready for him to force it if you hadn’t been working on it for this long,” Harry said, softly. “So it took both of you, all right?”
“We’re not such a bad team,” Hermione said, with a smile. “Though we’re a better one with you on it.”
“I like that part,” Harry said, with a smile. “Well. Mostly. Minus the blizzards and ditches and bloody ghosts.”
“I like that part, too,” Hermione said.
“Good lord, you’re lucky I’m a tolerant man,” Draco said, looking entertained. “The only person who gets to look at my wife that way in this bed is me, Potter.”
“No, you’re not,” Harry said, laughing. “She’s looking at me back.”
“The logic of drunken Gryffindors,” Draco said, with a sigh. “It’s probably what lead you to being sideways on the bed.” He glanced at Crookshanks. “I can’t believe you’re letting them get away with this nonsense, though I suppose you probably have Stockholm syndrome, you were subjected to it for years.”
“Oh, shut up,” Hermione said. “Just because he doesn’t always side with you.”
“Sometimes he gets confused, he’s getting on in years,” Draco said, then jumped, glaring at Crookshanks. “Biting is uncalled for, cat.”
“You can have next turn, Harry, I can change in here,” Hermione said, yawning. “No promises on being awake when you get back.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll at least be lying the right direction,” Draco said, nudging him.
Harry rolled his eyes, going across the hall to change and summoning his toothbrush from the other room, finding that he was more tired than he’d thought. He barely managed to avoid stumbling on his way back to the bedroom, where Draco was pulling back the blankets and Hermione was braiding her hair.
“Get in, she’s done stupid warming charms since apparently you people can’t tolerate the cold,” Draco said. “That’s what comes of being spoiled with towers.”
“Mm,” Harry agreed, climbing in on the other side. There was a distinct temperature gradient between what was presumably Draco’s spot and Hermione’s.
“You’re falling asleep,” Draco teased, because Harry was fighting not to close his eyes as soon as he was underneath the blankets. Draco slid in too, yawning, and it took Harry a minute to realize there wasn’t room for Hermione between them.
“Bugger, wrong side,” Draco said, yawning again, but Hermione got in too.
“No, you’re all right,” she said.
“We’re sticking you with the cat,” Draco said. “Also, feel free to enjoy Hermione’s freezing cold feet.”
“I have socks on,” she protested.
“And you always lose them in the middle of the night,” Draco said. “Which is currently entirely Harry’s problem.”
“Are you –“ Harry said, sleepily.
Hermione laughed softly. “Yes, we’re sure,” she said, reaching up to run her fingers through his hair. “Get some rest, Harry. You need it.”
“Still think it should be twenty galleons,” Draco said, reassuring and solid against his side.
“Sure, with a deduction of ten for about two bottles of wine,” Hermione said, still stroking his hair. “We’ll be here, Harry, it’s all right.”
He still wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the whole thing, but he fell asleep before he could think much more about it.