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*

“It’s not physical, Draco.”

“But...It has to be.”

“No, it doesn’t.” The Healer sighs, placing the papers down on the desk between them. “We discussed this being a possibility, given what you’d outlined to us as the problem in your first appointment, your symptoms. Your pre-existing…condition.” He folds his hands, delicately, rubs at an ink smudge on his knuckle. He smiles, and it’s meant to be kind, understanding. Draco’s lip curls, his fists clenching.

“It has to be something physical.”

“Oh, don’t bare your teeth at me.” The Healer laughs, and Draco wishes he could remember his name so he could curse it. “No, we’ve got the results of last night’s examination, and all physical function is perfectly normal,” he smiles again, the patronising fucker, “which means the cause of your problem is mental.” He taps the side of his head with one finger, as if Draco might not understand what he’s saying, and Draco is ready to snap. He was ready before he sat down in this sterile and medicinally bland room and Mr I Think You’re a Dumbarse is not helping.

“So,” the Healer continues, fixing Draco with his soft brown gaze, “it is now my pleasure to refer you to someone else, who can help you with this situation.”

He hands Draco a card, small and embossed with a name and floor, and before Draco can reply he’s ushering him out the door and into the elevator.

“Mind Healer,” Draco reads unhappily when he arrives at his floor, as he stands in front of the white door. “Fucking hell. This is not what I came here for.”

He turns and is about to leave, when he stops. He thinks of Pansy’s worried face as she made him swear to find out what was wrong with him, after he passed out in the shop’s small bathroom in summer. He thinks of the heavy bags under his eyes, the sleepless nights, the worsening fatigue. He thinks of his mother, urging him to take care of himself, even though she doesn't really understand, and still tears up whenever she remembers what he is now. It’s hard for her, born and raised with the idea of blood purity as being so important, and precious, to reconcile that with what her son is now. She still hasn’t really come to terms with what Fenrir did to him. His father can’t even say the word out loud, his lips pursing on the ‘we ―’ before they pinch together, as he stares into his drink and they all change the subject.

Sometimes, Draco suspects he hasn’t really come to that good a terms with it himself, but he’s still miles ahead of the pair of them. It’s less easy to pretend it doesn't exist, he supposes, when he’s staring up at the moon longingly and downing a pint of Wolfsbane each month. It’s been nearly eight years, after all.

It’s even harder to ignore when he has to deal with the urges ― the ruts ― that happen four times year, like sweaty, randy clockwork. The last one was the worst he’s had yet, the aftermath taking him off work for a week, and leaving him unfortunately unable to hide how unwell he was from Pansy. The downside of working with his best friend, he knows now, after nearly three months of her pestering him to get properly checked out. After she threatened to tell his mother how sick he really was, Draco finally caved. He’s due for another rut in a fortnight, and perhaps the Healers can give him something to knock him out, so he can hibernate through this one. Hello Autumn, he thinks wryly. It always used to be his favourite season.

Regardless, loitering in a hallway at St Mungo's like a pilchard isn’t helping matters. Draco puffs his cheeks out, turning on his heel and taking the three steps back to the Mind Healer’s door. He raps on it sharply.

She’s nicer than he expects.

“Draco, is it?” The Mind Healer extends one hand, and he shakes it. “Take a seat. My name is Olivia,” she introduces once he’s sat down on the chair opposite her. There are no desks in here, in an attempt at informality, and the windows are open, potted plants on the sills and standing by a far wall. It’s bright, and comforting, and Draco doesn’t like it, the smell of Autumn’s arrival wafting in through the open windows and making him antsy.

“You’ve been referred to me from Healer Fitzpatrick,” she says, looking into his file and nodding as she reads. “How did you find him?” she asks.

“Horrible,” Draco replies honestly, and she nods again without looking up.

“Yes, he’s got the bedside manner, as we say, of a troll.” She meets his eyes, smiling sharply and Draco wonders if this is an empty attempt at currying favour, at earning his trust before she gleans his dark and humiliating secrets, but it doesn’t seem like that. He finds he quite likes her, even though her office is too bright and cheerful, and the fact that there is a Self-Inking Quill poised to scratch out her analysis on the parchment on her small table to the left. He lets himself smile, wanly.

“Yeah, total prick,” he mumbles, sitting back in his chair. “So, what’s wrong with me?” he asks bluntly before he can get too comfortable. He feels tired, not well rested, even after a night spent in St Mungo’s magical sleep lab as they took his magical readings, and then deduced, annoyingly, that he was fighting fit. He’s frustrated by the morning he’s wasted with this Fitzpatrick fellow, the smarmy git.

“You lost consciousness in a bathroom at your place of work last season,” she replies equally as bluntly, marking something off on his chart, and Draco is suddenly reminded of Pansy. He frowns.

“No.” His frown deepens at her raised brow. “Well, yes, but it wasn’t as bad as you make it sound, I just ― ”

“And again, in spring, and three months before that. After the turn of each season,” she says pointedly as she taps at the page with a short and brightly painted ― fuschia ― nail. “It says you were dizzy, disorientated and non-responsive when you were brought in, requiring IV fluids and overnight observation, before you discharged yourself.”

“Yes,” Draco smiles, but it feels like more of a confused grimace, “because I was feeling better.”

“And before? In what way were you unwell?” She flicks him a piercing look. “Did something happen during your rut?”

Draco shifts against the soft black leather of the chair, unwilling to answer. She knows anyway, it’s in his sodding chart. “I don’t see how the events at the turn of the seasons,” he licks his lips, feeling a flush of embarrassed colour spread over his cheeks, “are really pertinent here.”

“No. But I do.” She puts the chart down, fixing him with a keen look. “It’s all connected.” She folds he hands over her lap. “Which brings us to the matter at hand. And, I’m afraid, some rather personal questions.”

They are both silent for a long moment: the Mind Healer, searching Draco’s face, and Draco, unsure of what the hell he should say. He doesn’t like being stared at.

“Do you have any trouble achieving orgasm?” she asks, soft and abrupt.

“Merlin.” Draco looks at her, then away again quickly. “No, that. That’s all fine.”

“Good.” She hums. “And when was the last time you were sexually active with another person?”

Draco folds his arms, unfolds them again. “Not recently,” he replies defensively.

“How long ago is not recently?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

“Fine, bloody ―” Draco runs a hand over his jaw, as he thinks, his face heating. “I think, roughly ten months.”

“And your partner,” Olivia crosses her ankles neatly, one behind the other, “were they lycanthrope, or ―”

“Human?” Draco interrupts with a sneer.

“That wasn’t what I was going to say,” she replies, her voice carefully even, devoid of emotion. But Draco can see that she’s taken note of that response. The Self-Inking Quill scratches something furiously against the parchment and he stares at it, balefully.

Unresolved issues regarding transformation, he imagines it might say, resentment towards magical medical personnel and terminology. Really, any Mind Healer worth their salt shouldn’t be surprised by that, though. After the slew of bites and recently turned werewolves, that were left after Greyback and his companions’ rampage after the war and before they were captured, wizarding kind had to adapt to a significantly increased lycanthropic population. They had gone from a small and mostly ignored minority, to a...well, larger and now mostly accepted and supported minority, but that came slowly, and there are still many pockets of society who were reluctant to get on board with that, with accepting the newly bitten and turned. It seemed the older, the purer the blood a person perceived they were in possession, and the less association they wanted to have with those in possession of a lycanthropic problem.

Draco being turned was a slap in the face to his parents ― and a deliberate one from Greyback, at that ― and had all but ostracised the Malfoys from the self-declared eliter parts of society. Draco didn't mind; he wanted nothing to do with them, anymore, and if those who had quietly supported He Who Must Not be Named with their silence wanted to now shun Draco, he was all the gladder for it. It wasn’t as if his family was on high society’s Christmas card list anyway, after their actions in the war, as Draco had once yelled in his father’s face during a particularly bad post-bite fight. He’d busted his stitches, during that one, he recalled, the large wound on his side splitting open as he threw his glass at the wall. His mother had all but pulled him to bed, after that, glaring wordlessly as Lucius’s stunned and silent face.

His father hadn’t brought it up again, at least, Draco’d thought with wry pleasure as he’d let his mother redress his ribs. Merlin, everything about Greyback had to be over the top; even his bite wounds took forever to heal, resisting even the sturdiest of healing spells. His mother was quite deft at them, though, and proved marvellously resilient as well when Draco participated in an interview with the Prophet about werewolf rights, and their place in society. He’d hated every second of it, but he felt he ought to at least try and do something to make life a little easier for those who, like him, had been affected ― just in case anyone out there might be listening. The words I am not a coward, became his mantra as he answered question after question, as he made himself do this one brave thing, as he ignored the sting of the healing teeth marks in his side.

Just one brave thing.

“Are you trying to read my notes?” Olivia asks, snapping Draco back to attention.

“Yes,” he admits, trying to wrongfoot her with the truth. It doesn’t quite work.

“I’m afraid they won’t make sense, unless you know Magi-wizard shorthand.” Her smile is tight, professional, but her eyes are glinting with humour.

“They were not turned,” Draco says quietly after a moment, too tired to keep up his glaring match with the quill. “My last sexual partner.”

“And your ruts?” She asks, gently adjusting her glasses. “How many would you say you have a year?”

Dracos’s jaw tightens, as he slides a little lower in his chair. “The normal amount.”

“Seasonal?”

Draco nods.

“And what do you do during them?”

Draco looks up sharply, then shrugs, pursing his lips.

“You do nothing?” She furrows her brow, but her expression isn’t surprised. It’s all in his charts; she’s just teasing the information out of him. “Management is important, Draco.”

“I manage them,” he says, defensively, and he knows it’s only half of a lie. “I take the prescribed potions, and I wait them out, what else am I supposed to do?”

“You need to knot, Draco.”

The room is filled with sudden, thick silence, as Draco tenses. “I can’t do that,” he says hoarsely. “Which you know, because it is in that sodding chart I filled in yesterday, along with every other detail of my personal life down to, I don't know, my favourite bloody colour!”

“You can’t knot, or you refuse to?”

Can’t!” he snaps. “But that’s not why I’m here, getting those tests, which are all useless anyway because Healer Fits-prick found nothing wrong with me ―”

“Physically, nothing is,” Olivia confirms. “The symptoms are physical yes, but the cause is not. Physically, you are quite healthy. Mentally and magically, on the other hand?” She looks at him seriously. “That, I believe, is the source of the malady.”

Draco inhales, shutting his eyes and trying to steady his racing heart. Frustration, anger, and a just a little bit of I told you so! from his inner Pansy mingle inside him as admitting out that doing that one basic thing that all Alphas do ― knot their partners ― is something he is incapable of.

“Draco. As an Alpha, you need to knot. The emotional, hormonal and chemical release is important for all aspects of your well being ―”

“Look,” he interrupts, moderating his tone, “that’s all well and good, but it just doesn’t happen.” He leans forward. “It has never happened, with anyone, or not since ―” He breaks off, then looks away, flushing slightly. Olivia's eyes narrow.

“Not since...?” she prompts, staring at him intently from behind her wire-framed glasses. “What about on your own?” She glances back at the chart sitting open next to her. “You were turned at seventeen, sexually mature. You would have presented immediately, the change of the seasons affecting you as it does all werewolves. So, something….happened?”

Draco’s mouth presses into a tight line, and he folds his arms across his chest, crosses one leg over the other.

“Yes,” is all he replies, refusing to elaborate. He doesn't want to talk about the night at the Manor, the sweat, the fever he’d woken up with, the pain in his side and the wonderful throb between his legs. Most of all, he doesn’t want to remember the blind panic he’d felt when it happened, when he’d slipped his hand down beneath his sheets and wrapped his fingers around his cock, and then around ― that.

As if he hadn’t felt like enough of a freak, like damaged and inhuman goods, already.

“I can tell by your face that you don’t enjoy recalling this,” Olivia says, pouring a stream of Aguamenti water into the tall glass by Draco’s left side.

“It’s fine,” Draco lies. “It happened once,” he confirms, “but hasn’t happened since. It doesn’t happen,” he emphasises. By the time he’d come to terms with his new status as a werewolf, his cock, it seemed, had lost all interest in knotting. Rut, no rut, it didn’t matter; it never happened.

Olivia hums thoughtfully

“I’ve had partners,” Draco goes on to say, running a hand through his hair in frustration, “wolf, non-wolf, Omega, Beta, even bloody Alpha, and it just does. Not. Happen.”

“And during a rut?”

“No.” Draco sits back. “No, I don’t,” he licks his dry lips, reaching for the water. He takes a long slow sip while Olivia watches him shrewdly. “I don’t have sex during those.”

“Never?”

“No.”

“Do you masturbate?”

“If I must,” Draco croaks.

“So, you rely heavily on the suppressants in the days leading up to and on the night of a rut?”

“Yes.”

“And you have done so for eight years?”

Yes.” Draco jiggles his foot impatiently.

“And then when you inevitably burn out, exhausted and magically depleted, right after these unfulfilled ruts, you tell yourself it’s not connected, and you’re just unwell?” Her voice is not unkind, but it is far too honest, and Draco momentarily hates her. He glares.

“I don’t see how that has anything to do with knotting.”

“No.” She smiles. “That’s what Magi-Medical personnel are for, though. Making these connections.”

Draco’s lip twitches as his eyes narrow further. Olivia just smirks back at him.

“So knotting would fix this?” he asks petulantly. “That’s the miracle cure, is it?”

Olivia simply looks at him, then stands.

“What prompted you to finally come forward?” She moves towards two tall filing cabinets at the back of the room, a large potted fern standing between them both. The quill and parchment follow her, still marking off indistinct symbols on the page as it hovers at shoulder height.

“My,” pain in the arse friend, “co-worker suggested it,” Draco says with a shrug, over-simplifying the situation.

“Miss Parkinson, is it?” Olivia continues to rummage, leafing patiently through file after file as Draco watches her.

“Correct.” After a moment he adds, “we run a store together.”

“A bookshop, yes?”

“Yes.” Draco frowns as she nods, finally retrieving the file she was after. “She’s...my friend. My oldest friend.”

“That’s important,” Olivia says sincerely, sitting down once more. The quill and parchment faithfully trail behind her, fluttering to a still and settling against the cushioned seat. “People who support you are important.”

Draco fights not to roll his eyes. From her smile, Olivia looks like she can tell.

“So. You’re due for another rut in two weeks,” she pronounces, and rolling his eyes starts to sound like an even better idea for Draco.

“Yes, I know.” Honestly, as if he didn’t know that already.

“It’s important you don’t spend it alone,” she says, her voice growing quieter as it grows more serious. “It’s important you don’t use suppressants this time.”

Draco spreads his hands, lets them hit his thighs in exasperation.

“If I don’t use the suppressants, then I’ll ―”

“Yes,” she interjects kindly. “You will need companionship.”

“No,” he shakes his head, “no, I spend ruts alone.”

“And it’s bad for you.”

“I’ve never spent one with someone.”

“And it’s bad for you,” Olivia repeats. “The desire to mate won’t go away, Draco.”

“I don’t want to mate,” he hisses vehemently, wiping his sweating palms on his trousers.

“As an Alpha, biologically, you do,” she insists. “You’ve ignored it this long, but never knotting, never spending a rut with a compatible Omega, it’s...” she shakes her head, and her expression is sympathetic. “That’s what your body does four times a year, it needs that now, and your altered magic is right on board with it. The longer you ignore it, the more it damages you.”

Draco swallows. “But, suppressants ―”

“You can suppress it for so long, but not indefinitely.” Draco sighs, and looks away, defeated, as she continues to talk. “It’s making you ill. You need the release ―”

“Release,” Draco scoffs.

“ ― magically, emotionally, mentally.” Olivia smiles. “You are physically capable of knotting, but you need to spend a rut with someone who is compatible, who you are comfortable with.” She spreads her hands. “And knot them.”

Draco groans, frustrated ― at her, at the task, at his own infuriating biology for causing this. “And who, exactly, is going to provide that for me during this unsuppressed rut, huh?” He pushes his hair back, smoothing it away from his face. “Got a friend in mind, an Omega sex doll, what?”

He looks away, face burning, but looks back when she hands him something. It’s a small card, no name. Just an address, a Floo number to contact, and a description of the services offered.

He looks up at her with incredulous eyes.

“A Heat Companion?” Draco’s mouth turns down as he reads off the card. “You want me to see...a prostitute?”

For the first time, Olivia laughs, and the sound is light, and sweet. “Merlin, no, it is not that. Heat Companions provide a valuable and discreet service, for this very kind of situation.”

“Werewolves with broken cocks?”

Olivia laughs again. “You’re not broken, Draco. You just need...a little help. I’d like you to meet with this person,” she goes on. “They’ve retired, but ―”

“Oh,” Draco scoffs, shaking his head. “Got a favour to call in, do you? I’m a favour?” he finishes unkindly.

“No.” She tilts her head, eying the file on her lap intently. “Not like that. He’s very good ―”

“He?”

“Yes.” She looks up quickly, her brown curls around her face. “Is that an issue? Your chart said…” She stops as Draco swallows, a little curl of shame trying to unwind inside him, but he shoves it away.

“They’re very invasive, aren’t they. The questions we ask,” she says softly. It’s not an apology, but it is something, and Draco suddenly can put his finger on who she reminds him of, other than Pansy; Granger. Figures he’d get saddled with a Mind Healer who is a combination of the only two women he’s ever been properly scared of. He’s expecting the Weaslette to burst in any minute now.

“No, it’s all right. He is...He is preferable,” he says quietly. She smiles, and it’s genuine.

“Good. I can arrange an initial meeting, for three days time.” She rests her elbows on her knees, looking at him until she has his full attention. “As I was saying, he’s not really Companioning anymore, he’s retired mostly, but this is not a favour I’m calling in.” She straightens. “I’ll offer him the job, and he’ll want to help here. He likes helping.” She smiles at Draco’s doubtful look. “He’ll want to help you.”

“Why?” Draco asks skeptically.

“Oh, you’ll discuss that with him.” Draco looks like he wants to argue, but she cuts him off. “Draco, you are under no obligation to engage his services, or that of anyone like him. I’d like you to go to the initial meeting, but that’s all. Don’t misunderstand me, this is the best and most effective method for dealing with this, but of course, if you’re not comfortable with it.” She clasps her hands together, then stands. “Then we’ll find other arrangements, other treatments.”

Draco looks down at the card. “Three days’ time?”

“Three days’ time,” she repeats as Draco stands. She extends her hand for him to shake it, and he does so, cautiously. “And you’re not locked into anything,” she adds, seeing his still wary expression. “You’ll discuss it all with him.”

Draco lets go of her fingers, scheduling another time to meet her before he leaves. His heart feels heavy, his head light, as the steps into the lift taking him back to the Apparition points. It’s the early onset of the lead-up to a rut already making itself known, and he’s used to this. He rubs his temple, eyeing the small bin in the corner of the lift as he considers throwing the card away. It’s stupid; he doesn't want to hire someone to fuck, and even if he did, it wouldn't help. He doesn’t knot. His body can’t, won’t, whatever it is. Any time he’s felt like it might happen, something's stopped him, held him back. Why the hell would an Omega Heat Companion change that?

Draco runs the pad of his thumb over the embossed letters, stepping aside to let a woman and young child in. As the lift doors slide close in front of them with a gentle hum, Draco slips the card back into his pocket.

*

“A Heat Companion?” Pansy stirs her tea. “Circe’s soggy drawers, I didn’t even know that was a thing.”

“Blessed is the innocence of the unbitten,” Draco replies, as he slips his last book into its place, then steps down from his wooden ladder. “You lead such untroubled lives.”

“Oh, come off it, Saint Malfoy.” Pansy sets her tea down next to the till, folding her arms. “You didn’t know it was a thing either.”

Draco sniffs. “No, true.” He flicks her an amused gaze. “I still don’t think I do.”

“So it’s someone who has a heat with you, while you have your quarterly…” Pansy waves her hand, then thrusts her hips in a lewd gesture. Draco makes a face at her.

“I’m so grateful I have such sensitive friends.”

“I know, I'm a treasure.” She cups his cheek as he walks past, picking up another book form the pile of new stock they received. “That’s what it is, though, yes?”

“Correct.” Draco sighs, taking a sip of Pany’s tea. He grimaces ― too sweet ― before he undoes the top button of his robes, exposing his throat. “Something like a sex therapist, I gather.”

“Very hands on kind of therapy.”

Draco laughs. “Quite.” He rubs at his neck, his shoulder a little sore. “He’s retired, apparently.”

“Wait, so,” Pansy spins on the spot, leaning against a shelf, “he’s old?”

“Merlin, I hope not.” Draco laughs again.

“Ageist,” Pansy quips, grinning.

“You shag him, then.” Draco looks up at her from under the fall of his hair. It needs a cut, just a little on the too long side, but he’ll do that in Autumn proper. He’s too agitated for that this week.

“Darling, I don’t need to,” she leers, “my cock works just fine.”

“Oh, you have a cock now?”

“Yeah, top drawer.” She grins, and it’s salacious. “Bigger than yours, I’d wager.”

“I thought Millie was looking especially well-fucked these days.”

“Pfft,” Pansy rocks on her heels. “As if I need a cock for that.”

She winks, and Draco picks up a copy of Bezoars and Belligerence then tries to whack her on the arse with it. She giggles, and spins away.

“So, when are you going to go and meet your geriatric paramour?”

“Merlin. Tomorrow, unfortunately,” Draco replies heavily.

“Don’t look so glum, my love.” Pansy steps closer, heels clicking on the bookshop’s wooden floor. “Perhaps it really will help?” She looks at him sincerely, and Draco pats her hand. He still feels a little bad for scaring her last season, when he collapsed in the upstairs bathroom.

“Yeah.” He smiles, standing and kissing her forehead as he Summons his cloak. “I’m going to head off. Get my beauty sleep before ―” He stops as the door to the stop jangles.

“We’re closed!” he and Pansy both yell in unison. The figure at the door laughs.

“It’s only me! I’ve come to talk with you about the encyclopedias we discussed the other day.”

“Oh, shit,” Pansy frowns faintly, tossing her hair back. It’s just long enough to skim her shoulders. “It’s Ellie. I think I was drunk when I said we would stock her ― No, don’t leave!” she pleads as Draco stands, heading towards the back of the shop.

“She’s your friend,” he says in a deep, you brought this on yourself, tone. He continues walking backwards, to where he knows the Floo is, as Pansy glares at him.

“Fine, abandon me. Go get your beauty sleep for your Heat Grandpa.” She chuckles as Draco rolls his eyes, before he flips her two fingers. He would normally stay, have tea and an admittedly weird chat with Ellie, but he’s tired, anxious, more apprehensive about tomorrow’s meeting than he’d like to admit. The rut is bearing down on him, getting closer and more tangible with every day, and he’s more than aware that if it doesn’t work out then he’s up shit creek for the coming week. He’s never weathered a rut without suppressants, and he’s never been around an Omega in heat. He knows they follow the same seasonal phases as Alphas, four heats a year, that their desire to be fucked is as intense as that which Alphas feel, in reverse. At least, Draco assumes it is; he usually spends his ruts doped up to the eyeballs.

He’s stepping into the flames before Pansy has the door open, falling into bed as soon as he can. He lies awake still, after a restless hour’s contemplation on who this Companion might be, what they’ll be like. Will they be tall, young, old, friendly. Handsome, or funny? He’s dying to find out, and terrified at the same time, some instinct within him flexing its claws at the idea of an Omega while the rest of him tells it to shut up, and sit down.

He curls onto his side, wraps his arms around his pillow and imagines what it would be like to have company in a week’s time, to share his bed with someone. He’s twenty five, and he’s got his friends, his shop, but he knows he also has a scar the size of a dinner plate on his side, a plethora of others on his chest, and enough emotional baggage to cover a whole table in the Hogwarts Great Hall. He’s known for some time that he’s getting by rather than getting on with his life, and he’s mostly okay with that; after living through the war, he’ll take dull, and a bit lonely with the occasional fainting spell, any day. But he can’t help but think the Healers are onto something, that more than anything the physical contact with another person, another wolf, might be nice.

As Draco finally falls asleep, he knows that a not insignificant part of him is hoping that he and the Companion will be compatible.

*

Of course it’s Potter.

Draco stands out the front of the cafe for a full thirteen minutes, reeling from the sight of that messy dark hair, the familiar glasses, as Harry sits in the window seat of The Picnic Table, the East London cafe Draco was told to arrive at. Harry’s wearing jeans, a grey t-shirt, his hair a little on the too long side and as wild as ever, and Draco wipes a hand over his mouth, realises his fingers are shaking and stuffs them into his pocket. He takes a step forwards, then immediately takes another step backwards, his stomach churning with something like anger, like humiliation, like queasy surprise. The rut hormones are in there too, making him jittery, flighty, tense. He wants to Disapparate away right now.

Of course it’s fucking Potter!

He shakes his head angrily, the wilting summer sun making him just a little too warm in his Muggle cotton shirt, his thin trousers. More than angry, than surprised, he’s furious with himself for letting his hopes rise, for imagining something might happen here. It’s Potter, and for whatever reason he’s agreed to do this. Is he claiming his life debt, in some fucked up way? Is this revenge, seeing Draco at his lowest, a cowering dog that can’t knot, can’t stay on its feet, hasn’t learnt its new tricks?

Potter’s a werewolf too, idiot.

Draco stops, bringing himself out of his anger. It’s true, as his subconscious knows; Harry was bitten not long after Draco was. Maybe six months, a year? He brought down Greyback himself, while still only in Auror training, still in the ugly, grey robes of the not-yet-graduated. Draco remembers that day, how he’d crowed inside seeing Fenrir’s face as he was carted off to prison, and then how he’d visited his mother. She wasn’t there, only Lucius, and when Draco had burst into surprised, horrible, relieved tears on the Manor doorstep, his father had offered him a rare hug, held him tight and smoothed a broad hand over his head like he used to when he was little.

Draco hasn’t thought about Harry since that day. Not really. Not in any tangible way, anything worth remembering, he tells himself.

Draco knows that if Harry is working ― or did work, at least ― as a Heat Companion, then he’s coping with what he is better than Draco. He suddenly remembers Olivia the Mind Healer’s insistence that Harry would want to help him, would take his case on even though he doesn’t do this work anymore. Draco sneers, a further curl of annoyance inside him.

Fucking Saint Potter and his charity cases. Draco’s damned if he’ll be one. He finally makes himself walk inside.

“Potter,” he spits, as he stands before him.

“Hi,” Harry says, looking up, and Draco is momentarily taken aback by the hue of his eyes, the intensity of them. He’s not sure why he expected them to have faded, like his memories of Harry have somewhat, but they’re as bright as ever, as quick. Draco fights the urge to take a step back; he always feels oversensitive before a rut, to bright colours, loud sounds. They don’t upset him but elicit responses that he might otherwise overlook. Harry doesn't seem remotely surprised to see Draco, but of course he isn’t; he’s the one holding all the cards here. Draco’s ire rises again.

“I don’t know what kind of sick game you’re playing here ―”

“I ordered us both cake,” Harry interrupts, “but then you were late, and I ate mine.” He looks at the other, also empty plate, and Draco follows his gaze, slightly lost for words. “And then I ate yours too,” Harry admits sheepishly, “because I wasn’t sure if you were going to actually come in, or just stay out there.” He gestured towards the window, at the street Draco had been standing in, before he stands, pulling out Draco’s chair for him.

Draco feels a mortified flush creeping over his cheeks at Harry having known he was there. He tries to hang onto his anger from before, but it’s slipping away, and he drops down into the chair, lets a waitress pour them both some water.

“Everything okay?” she asks. Her name badge tells Draco her name is Larissa, and he nods.

“Yes, my friend is just,” Harry smiles apologetically, at her, and then mostly at Draco, “I surprised him.”

“Ah,” Larissa tilts her head understandingly, in the practiced way of those who work in hospitality and are accustomed to helping smooth over tense social interactions. “Can I get you anything more?”

“Tea,” Draco croaks quickly, determined not to let Harry order for him. “Peppermint, if you have it, please,” he adds, remembering his manners.

“We do.” She smiles, and Draco decides he likes her. She leaves them to it, bringing them both a large pot to share, and a biscuit for Draco, on the house she tells him, and Draco suspects Harry has arranged it somehow. He breaks a corner off, dusts the crumbs off his fingers, then fixes Harry with a stare.

“What are you...What is this?” Draco asks, unable to keep the bitterness out of his tone.

Harry looks at him openly. “It’s exactly what Olivia told you it would be.”

“She didn’t say it would be you!”

“Should she have?”

“Wha ―” Draco laughs, the sound caustic in his throat. “You knew it was me,” he retorts, and Harry picks up the teapot, then decides to let it steep a little longer. He smiles.

“Yes,” he meets Draco’s eyes, “that's why I took the job.”

Draco flexes his fingers in his lap, sits a little straighter. He wants to be sick. “Why?” he asks, and it comes out in a hoarse whisper. He braces for the answer, for the slap it surely will be, but Harry just looks at him again.

“Because I want to help you,” he responds easily, and it doesn’t sound like a lie, but Draco knows that doesn’t mean it isn’t. He folds his arms across his chest.

Why?” he repeats, louder and more pointedly, and Harry’s smile turns a little wry. He leans his elbows on the table, doesn’t answer for a moment.

“I read your interview,” he says after the silence stretches on slightly too long. Draco doesn’t know what Harry is talking about, and he almost snaps as much, until all too quickly the pieces slot together. He feels his lip curl.

“Ah. My interview,” he says dryly.

Harry’s eyes are serious as he nods.

“Done your research on me, have you?” Draco looks away, pouring himself some tea to have something to do with his slightly shaking hands; he manages to only spill a little on the table. “I imagine it’s not too hard to dig that old rag up,” he mumbles, feeling oddly exposed.

“I’ve had it since it came out,” Harry replies.

“Had?” Draco frowns, setting his teacup in front of him.

“Yes,” Harry smiles. “I’ve had a copy since it came out,” he reiterates, pushing his hair back behind one ear. HIs fingers are long, his arms slightly tanned, and Draco doesn't know what to say.

“When it came out...” he says, too surprised to remember he’s angry. “That was years ago.”

“Seven years, yeah. Or seven and a half, I guess,” Harry sighs, heavily, and his breath lifts a curl of hair which has fallen back across his forehead. Harry sweeps it back. “It helped me.”

Draco opens his mouth, eyes wide and mind whirring at a thousand beats a second.

“Ho ―” Draco rubs his jaw, then his cheek. “How?” he finally manages to ask, softer and more sincerely that he’d intended.

“It helped me tell people,” Harry says again, in that easy and open and utterly genuine manner. Draco feels floored by it.

“No, but you weren’t,” Draco clears his throat. “You weren’t bitten at the time. Not until a year or so after I did that stupid interview. You...Greyback, you were in training, and you got the fucker, and that’s when you were bitten, turned.” Draco frowns, but Harry just twists his mouth, mouthing the word nope.

“No,” Harry says out loud, sitting back, “it wasn’t stupid, what you did. And no,” Harry nods again, “I just didn’t tell anyone ‘til after Greyback. After I left the training program. After you.”

Draco’s mind is reeling. He feels almost dizzy with the knowledged that Harry was bitten around the same time he was, and then didn’t tell anyone for nearly a year. “You hid it? Why?” he asks before he can stop himself.

Harry shrugs, the movement fluid while his face is tense.

“Honestly? Shame.” Harry sighs. “One of the bravest men I ever knew was a werewolf, and I looked up to him. I thought he was so strong, invincible, indestructible. Even when he died, I thought of him like that. But there were times, when I,” he bites his lower lip, “I judged him, and harshly. I never told him what I thought of him, never took the time to ―” He stops, inhaling and puffing out one cheek. “Anyway, that’s another story.” He looks back at Draco, his eyes a little bright. Draco realises he’s holding his breath, the whistle and hum of the cafe seeming to fade out behind them.

“And then I got bitten, and I just…” Harry raises his brows. “I hated myself. Instantly. I hated transforming, I hated the potions, I hated the stigma. I hated the person who had done this, that they hadn’t looked after themselves better, hadn’t sought help to manage the moon.” He rests his cheek in his hand. “I thought, I’d been through so much already, and now there was bloody this to deal with. What kind of system of fairness is that?” He looks at Draco wryly, and Draco swallows, wonders if he should answer. He doesn’t think he can. He inclines his head, motioning for Harry to go on.

“Then I got over the self pity,” Harry says, “which was surprisingly not as bad as what came next. Which was the self-loathing. And the shame,” he makes the word sounds so heavy. “I felt like such a fucking hypocrite. Nearly his whole life, and Remus had been fighting this, fighting off this Dark Magic, and I never really appreciated it. I even thought he was a coward for running from Tonks, from bringing a child into this, and then,” Harry swallows, thickly, “then it happens to me and I wanna throw myself off the first building I see. The empathy was bad enough, but god, I just, hated myself for not being more okay with it, for being so angry, and then I had my first heat and that was like the icing on the already rotten cake, so I just….kept it hidden. People close to me knew, but only a couple of Healers, and I planned to just keep it that way. Stay in the Aurors, pretend it never happened, tell no one.” He shrugs, and his smile is brighter than Draco thinks it should be, at contrast with this slightly watery eyes. He doesn't say anything for a moment, only presses his finger onto the end of his spoon, raises it slightly.

“Shame’s gross, huh?” Harry says, as though this is something Draco might understand, and Draco still doesn’t know how to answer. His heart is thumping, his chest tight.

He swallows, setting his cooling tea down. “And then?” he asks hoarsely.

“Well.” Harry smiles, and his teeth are white and straight, his eyes fierce. “Then some blond prat I went to school with did an interview with the Prophet, holding his own against a reporter who clearly had a bias against him, and who had even more reason than me to hide what he was now.” Draco’s stomach lurches as Harry keeps talking quietly. “And I pulled my head out my arse, and started telling people too.” His smile quirks up to one side. “Well, took me a few more months, but I did it.”

“You…” Draco closes his eyes. “Because of me?”

“Yeah.” Draco opens his eyes to see Harry watching him, almost kindly. “It was brave of you. Inspiring.”

At that, Draco manages a laugh. “I find it very unlikely that I inspired you,” he croaks around the lump of emotion in his chest. Fuck, he hates the week before a rut. Everything seems to hit him ten times as hard.

“Weirder things have happened, Draco.”

Draco laughs again, inclines his head in concession. Harry’s got a point there. “Why are you telling me all of this?”

Harry makes a face, almost embarrassed. “I’m...annoyingly honest these days,” he says, grinning self deprecatingly. “Especially, um. In these kinds of scenarios. It’s good to be direct, forthright.”

Draco raises his brows at the reminder of what they’re here for, at the motive behind Harry’s candor. He wants it to rankle him, but it doesn't.

“I hated doing that interview,” he abruptly admits. “I wanted to leave, as soon as it started.” He isn’t sure why he feels compelled to say this, whether it’s to shatter any idea Harry might have that he is brave, or worthy of any stock Harry has put in his character, or if he just feels like he owes Harry some kind of equally bone-deep honesty.

“But you did it anyway.”

“Yes.”

“And do you regret it?”

Draco furrows his brow. “No. Not at all.”

“That’s brave.” Harry takes a sip of tea, makes a face when he finds it only lukewarm, and Draco almost smiles. “Staying and doing it even when you want to bail.” Harry raises his teacup. “That's the only kind of bravery I know, anyway.”

“Maybe I just couldn't find the exit?” Draco raises an eyebrow, trying to break the spell, the tension between them. It’s not bad, but he wants to snap it anyway. “Or a window to jump out of?” Harry laughs.

“Still brave. I won’t be talked out of it,” he says definitely. “You didn’t jump out a window, I didn’t jump off a building, and now here we are.”

Draco crosses one leg over the other. “And tell me, where are we exactly?”

Harry laughs again. He does it a lot, Draco realises.

“In a Muggle cafe, discussing sex.”

“We’re not discussing sex, Potter.”

“We’re about to.”

Draco quirks his lip, as Harry raises his brows at him. “Down to business, then, is it?” His tone is dry, but Harry doesn't seem fazed.

“I imagine you have questions,” he asks, offering the floor up to Draco. Draco sits a little straighter, rests his hands on his knee.

“How is it you came to be a prostitute?” he asks bluntly. He doesn't mean it to be cruel, but he’s dying to know. And okay, a little bit of him does mean to be cruel, to pull Harry’s metaphorical pigtails. Some habits are hard to break.

Harry only laughs, giving him a sharp but fond look. “I’m not a prostitute.”

“No?” Draco looks down and then back at Harry’s eyes. “Retired prostitute?”

Harry’s laugh is louder this time. “No. Retired freelance sex and intimacy therapist,” he corrects. Draco blinks.

“That’s quite a job title, Potter.”

“Tax time was a nightmare,” Harry agrees, and Draco huffs in amusement. He can’t tell if Harry’s joking or not, can’t remember if he used to be this funny, or quick-witted, back at school. He certainly always gave Draco a run for his money. Harry’s sitting back in his chair, his t-shirt pulled tight over his chest and a smile on his lips, and Draco feels something stir inside him. Attraction. He looks away, but he knows Harry’s seen it, maybe even scented it. Omegas are more attuned to that than Alphas, more able to pick up scents. The closer it comes to the rut, the more Draco will be able to scent too, but for now, he can only faintly pick up Harry, his cologne, and something else underneath it. Something heavier and lighter at the same time, stronger and yet still tantalisingly far away.

The attraction stirs again inside him, and Draco tightens his fingers on his knee.

“How do you know Olivia?” he asks.

“Ah.” Harry stretches, and Draco can’t stop himself from watching the movement. He feels hot, hotter than the weather would explain. “That’s a long story really. We met...a while ago. Before I was working.”

“She was your Mind Healer,” Draco states, thinking quick. Harry wrinkles his nose.

“Sort of, yeah.”

“And she got you into this work?” Draco can’t stop the distaste from entering his voice.

“No, no.” Harry shakes his head, and then his hair out of his eyes. “Those two things were not connected. I’d stopped seeing her, when I started Companioning. It was about a year later, we bumped into each other and she asked how I was going with everything, and from there I told her. I kind of thought she’d think it was weird, but she said it was great for me. I mean. What she actually said was that it showed I was both accepting what I was now, and helping other people in a way that soothed my persistent saviour complex in a productive manner.” Harry smiles wryly, eyes crinkling at Draco’s expression. “And then I reminded her she should stop bloody diagnosing me, considering we were both off the clock and in a pub.”

“I like Olivia,” Draco says quietly, and Harry laughs sharply.

“Of course you do.” He rubs a hand over his chin. “Anyway, from there she started referring people to me. Well, she used to, when I was working properly, before I stopped.” He leans forwards, rests his elbows back on the table as he looks at Draco evenly. “And stop making that face. Which, yes, you are making,” Harry laughs. Draco opens his mouth, taken aback by Harry’s directness but he doesn't look angry. “It’s a legitimate job,” Harry continues, “being a Heat Companion. You need to be certified, accredited, before any Healer or Mind Healer will refer clients to you.”

“But you...You don’t do this, this Companion thing anymore?” Draco asks quietly, slightly chagrined.

“No.”

“Why not?”

Harry takes a moment to think. “It can be...tiring. Emotionally, mentally. Heats are only four times a year, but there’s a lot more that we do. Building rapport with clients, working through emotional problems, physical ones too. I took a step back, just briefly, and then I,” Harry shrugged, “found it hard to step back in.”

“And during heats?”

Oh,” Harry’s smile is lopsided. “I just do what everyone else does. Lock the door, block my Floo, hide my phone and wank myself raw.”

“Block your Floo?” Draco asks as a flush blooms on his cheeks. “Why?”

Harry shakes his head slightly. “Um, embarrassing really. So I don’t contact anyone, ask them to. You know. I can be a bit, um, insistent, and, well….” Harry’s mouth turns down. Draco’s eyes widen and Harry waves his hand again, a little bit red in the face himself. “That’s not relevant right now though, that’s a,” he clears his throat, “a conversation we will have if you decide to do this. If you want me.”

Draco swallows, heat rushing through him at Harry’s words. “So why have you agreed,” he weighs his words, “to discuss taking on this job?”

“You, you mean?” Harry’s look is searching, warm. “Why have I agreed to take on you?”

“Yes,” Draco confirms quietly. Harry leans even closer.

“Because I want to help you. And I can,” he says sincerely, emphatically. He holds a hand up before Draco can protest. “Liv ― Olivia,” Harry qualifies at Draco’s frown, “she referred this specifically to me, because she knew I would want to take this, and that I’d be good at it.”

“Is this a regular day’s work for you, then?” Draco can’t stop the bitter snap that creeps into the tone of his voice. “Specialising in impotence, broken Alphas who can’t knot?”

He winces, immediately regretting what he’s said. Sure, both of them know that's what this is, but he hadn’t wanted to fucking lay it all out there, just like that. He’s glad, at least, that they’re by the far window, away from any other patrons. The staff seem uninterested in them, in Draco’s somersaulting emotions.

Harry, on the other hand, is staring at him intently. His brow furrows slightly.

“How do you want me to answer that?” he asks quietly, and Draco feels worse for a moment, before he gives up.

“Honestly,” he forces himself to say, and Harry nods, a deep bow of his head.

“Okay.” Harry takes a deep breath. “Yes, this is the kind of stuff I do, or did, so I guess it was a regular day’s work as you said.” Draco feels himself withdrawing, and Harry’s expression falls slightly. He continues talking anyway. “No, I don’t specialise in impotence, or knotting issues. I don’t specialise in anything, except,” he tilts his head, and his hair falls over his glasses before he swats it away, “intimacy. Which is the actual issue here.”

“That’s your professional opinion, is it.” Draco ties to make professional sound dirty, but he’s too on edge, his hackles raised.

“Yes. It’s mine, and Olivia’s.” Harry’s smile is kind, but there’s something in his eyes which is tentative. “Touch is important, Draco, and you’ve not let yourself have it for a long, long time, not really.”

“And one night with you will fix that, will it?” There’s a plaintive note in his voice under the barb. “Is that all it usually takes for your clients, one rut and they’re back on the streets, packing steel between their legs?”

Harry’s eyes soften as he watches Draco. He worries his lower lip before he replies. “I don’t think you actually want to talk about past clients, Draco,” is all he says, and Draco runs his hand over his mouth. He nods, embarrassed at being called out, at being read so easily. He doubts it was hard at all.

“Well,” Harry looks at the teapot in between them, “I think now is as good a place as any to leave it.”

Draco looks up sharply, Harry’s decision unexpected. “Already?”

“Yeah.” Harry tucks away that errant curl of hair once more. “From here, it’s up to you. If you want to go any further than this,” he clarifies. “You can owl me, or Olivia with your decision with a simple yes or no. We have time but I would say no longer than two days. We’ll need to meet again before the turn of the season hits. To discuss specifics.”

“Money, you mean?”

Harry shrugs noncommittally. “Sure, money, generating compatibility, everything. Sex, of course. What can happen, what can’t.” Harry smiles. “The contract.”

“Merlin,” Draco breathes, and Harry holds up a hand.

“That’s to worry about next time, if you want to.”

They lapse into silence, as Harry seems to get ready to leave, waiting for acknowledgement from Draco first. Draco himself feels odd, panicked, the morning having slipped away so quickly, before he’d even noticed it. He should let Harry leave, should make a decision later, but he thinks he already knows what he wants. He knew it on some level as soon as he walked in, sat down, as soon as Harry opened his mouth. Saying it, however, is a different matter.

“I’d like,” Draco straightens his posture, uncomfortable but determined, “to engage your services.”

It’s overly formal, stiff and awkward, and he sounds like he’s asking Harry to come and clean his Floo, but Harry doesn’t look put out, or like he’ll laugh.

“Really?” Harry smiles, once, a brief and brilliant flash of white teeth. “Right, um, that’s.” He grins again, vibrant. “Great. So, I’ll have Olivia draft up the contract, she always handled that for me before. Then she’ll send it to you, and then we should meet again asap to go over it. Before um. Before the big night,” he finishes playfully, lips quirking. It’s unexpected, and Draco smiles before he realises it.

“For heaven’s sake, don’t call it that.”

Harry laughs once, almost silently. “How about, before I get you out of your rut?”

“No, that’s fucking dreadful, Potter,” Draco laughs softly too, despite himself. “I changed my mind already.”

“Nah,” Harry stands, pats his pockets down to make sure he has everything. “You won’t change your mind.” He looks almost hopeful, happy, and Draco doesn’t know what to make of that. “Right, well. See you soon.”

Draco inclines his head in a polite nod, even though his insides are doing a jig. Harry smiles one last time, causing another flash of heat in Draco’s belly, his chest, before he leaves.

Seven minutes and one cup of cold tea later, Draco leaves too.

*

The contract arrives faster than Draco expects.

It’s early, the day after their first meeting on Draco’s morning off. He doesn't like leaving Pansy alone in the shop, but he has to concede she’s easily as organised as he is, in her own scattered way, and she’s better at handling the Muggle inventory these days. Most of their clientele are Muggle these days, their bookshop straddling both worlds ― literally, as it has one entrance of Diagon Alley, and another on high street. It’s a complicated Charm, but one for which they fought for approval, and it’s the only way they can survive as a business. Not enough wizards would buy from them to keep them afloat, and not enough Muggles buy books full stop, but between them both Flowers and Dragons is keeping afloat.

The parchment is stark white, the kind St Mungos uses, and he doesn't recognise the handwriting on it, until he suddenly does ― the Self-Inking Quill, from Olivia’s office. The tawny owl taps at the window of his bedroom, rousing him, and he curses it, grumbles as he get up to let it in. With a squawk and a flurry of feathers the bird flaps past him, settles on his bedside table and watches him with large, expectant eyes.

“Good morning,” Draco says grumpily, still muddled with sleep. He’s shirtless, wearing only thin pyjama bottoms. The weather is still more summer than autumn, and it’s not cold. He pads downstairs, the bird hopping along the bannister next to him as it waits for a treat and Draco smiles. He’s never seen an owl do that before, he thinks, as he watches it hop after him, claws scratching without leaving marks against the polished wood, wings extended. The letter on its ankle rustles against the wood.

“You’re very odd,” he says to it, as he fetches the owl treats from the kitchen drawer, hands it one, and then two. It hoots softly, sticking its leg out again, and Draco sighs, then unwraps it with a lurching stomach. The owl watches him with avian curiosity, turning its head this way and that the way only an owl can, and Draco realises it will be waiting until he replies. He stops, unaccountably nervous about this whole thing, before he sighs, then makes himself a strong pot of first flush Darjeeling tea. Once it’s steeped and ready, he sits at the kitchen counter stool, puts on the glasses he pretends he doesn't need and begins to properly read.

It’s more formal than he expected it to be.

Everything is drawn up in the vein of a business contract, the expectations and obligations of both parties outlined clearly, and Draco takes a moment to be surprised by that before he realises it makes sense; this is a business contract. His lips twists slightly, something stirring inside him, but he pushes it away. It’s good that this is formal, controlled. If there’s one thing Draco can respect, it’s that.

He reads the three pages twice, as well as the letter form Olivia’s office explaining what to do. Initial each page, indicating he understands the terms, except for two sections he should leave blank: section C.3, indicating that all ‘events of the heat will be pre-discussed and agreed to between client ― D. L. M ― and Heat Companion ― H.J.P ― in accordance with their mutual needs, preferences, and desires, and with the understanding that consent can be withdrawn by either party at any time’, and section C.4 ― something titled the Voluntarily Involuntary Full Disclosure Agreement.

Draco makes a face at that, the contradiction of it baffling him. He isn't sure which one sounds more ominous, the fact that he’s doing to have to negotiate with Harry what he wants in bed, and then be told what he needs, presumably, or the fact that there’s an entirely blank section dedicated to some kind of disclosure he will have to make. He’s beginning to feel not only second, but also third and fourth, thoughts, when he notices that there is a small note stuck to the back of the page, in a different handwriting. It’s messy, untidy, and somehow incredibly familiar.

“Don’t panic about this bit, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ll explain it all properly, without the legalese, when we meet up. Does tomorrow at ten sound good? I’m technically an unemployed layabout, so can do whenever. Let me know.

H.P.”

Draco sets the small note down on top of the contract, smooths a hand over it. The owl trips a little closer, still walking with that strange hop-gait it has, and Draco scratches it behind the ear, deepens the caress as it tilts its head happily.

“Are you his owl?” he asks softly and the owl hoots again.

Draco hums, not sure why he finds that idea so comforting ― why Harry’s note has settled his nerves. He didn’t write the contract, but he must have checked it over, looked through Draco’s copy and sent it from his house, with his own strange and endearing messenger. He must have known that it would be baffling, confusing, a jumble of unfamiliar terminology, and perhaps he did this for all the clients he met with. Draco’s stomach twists a little at that thought, and he takes another sip of his tea. It doesn't matter whether Harry has done this for others, he tells himself. Draco likes that he did it for him, and he lets himself have that, the little spell of warmth in his chest at the sight of Harry’s friendly, messy scrawl.

He writes back ― “Yes. You choose where.” ― and sends the note with the owl.

He spends the rest of the morning in his garden, reading, or trying to at least, but he’s restless, keyed up. He feels anxious about meeting Harry tomorrow, but it’s an excited kind of anxiety, one he’s felt before. The night before dates, before birthdays, before Christmas morning arrives. It’s confusing, and worrying, and he can’t concentrate on the words on the page before him as he sits partly in the shade, and partly letting the sun warm his shoulders, kiss them with its sting. The Full Disclosure Agreement is bothering him, because he suspects that will terminate the contract. There’s bad blood between them, between himself and Harry, some of it literal too, he thinks as he recalls the way the water turned red around him as Sectumsempra sliced open his chest. He wants to be angry about that, but he never was, not even after it happened; there was too much else to be terrified for, and he strangely found himself believing Snape when he told him he didn’t think Harry knew what the spell did. Harry’s face, the brief glimpse of it Draco had seen, didn’t look like the face of someone who had wanted to hurt him like that. He looked horrified.

He looked different when he’d come back for Draco, pulled him out of the flames. He looked like that had been done on purpose.

Draco snaps his book shut, drops it onto the grass by his feet and then pulls them up onto his wicker chair. He scrubs a hand through his hair. And what about what Draco had tried to do, with Dumbledore, by helping the Death Eaters get into the school? Harry won’t have forgotten his part in that, he thinks, as a lot of people won’t have. He won’t have forgiven that, Draco thinks, or Draco for the people he lost. Draco hasn’t forgiven himself, not entirely, for the people he lost during that, too. They can't pick and choose what parts of their history to remember, can’t gloss over it, and ―

And Harry agreed to this.

Draco flexes his toes against the unyielding frame of the chair. He rests his chin on his knee, forces himself to calm down. More than that, Draco tells himself, Harry wants to do it, and he was perfectly candid about why. Perhaps, in the end, Harry’s not as stuck in the past as Draco thinks he should be, or is himself.

Draco sighs, cracking his stiff neck and standing up and out of the slightly too hot sun. Either way, that’s enough internal bloody self-crucifixion for one day, he decides with determination, heading for the shower. He’s not sure if it’s the surprise of finding out the Companion is Harry, or if this is how it feels this close to a rut, but he feels emotional, raw, introspective and slightly volatile. He’s usually taking suppressants by now, upping the dosage each day, and supplementing them with his own cocktail of other potions. It reminds him of the lead up to a transformation, but it’s not quite the same. He’s not angry, sore, but he does feel disorientated, hyper aware of those around him. Everything is starting to smell more vibrant; the orange he had for breakfast, as he rolled the firm fruit against his cheek, made his tongue almost tingle with its zest, and the scent of the jasmine in the garden borders now on overwhelming.

His body feels more sensitive too, as the water from the shower sluices over his skin, massages over his scalp. It’s nice, warm, and he feels his cock thickening between his legs, hanging hard and heavy as he threads his fingers through his hair, pressing them just on this side of too hard as he lathers the shampoo. He runs one hand down his chest, avoiding the edge of the bite scar as he skates his fingers over his ribs, his belly, to his erection. It thickens further under his touch, and he braces one hand against the wall of the shower, moves his fist in a slow, firm pace. He keeps his mind a careful blank.

It takes only moments to bring himself off, coming in thick spurts over his fist as he rests his forehead on a cold section of tile. He sighs, licking his lips as the last of his orgasm ebbs away, and he feels better for it. There’s a tension that leaves him, as he washes himself off, dries himself with quick sweeps of his towel.

He’s late for work, in the end, stepping through the door as Pansy taps her watch pointedly, pretending to glower. He smiles back, handing her a danish and a peach he picked up on the way, its flesh soft and perfectly ripe, as an apology. He smiles even wider when she beams at him ― he knows they’re her favourite ― and splits the fruit easily with a tap of her wand, offering him half. The juice slips over his thumb, down his wrist, and he licks at it, curls his tongue around the heel of his hand, then back up to the peach.

The flavour bursts on his tongue as he bites into it.

*