“I can’t stay at Hogwarts. There’s- I’m not- not again.”
“You know that leaves me with few other options.”
“I… I know.”
“You know the best one is Malfoy Manor.”
Harry glanced away.
Kingsley’s voice was gentle, but firm. “You know I wouldn’t be suggesting that if it weren’t the best way to ensure your safety.” He didn’t mention Hogwarts. He knew. He’d seen Harry go through this the past few months, years, and he-
Harry found his voice again. “It has to be completely voluntary.”
“Of course. But Narcissa and I have got to be… old friends lately, and I doubt she would-”
“Completely voluntary,” Harry repeated, meeting his eyes.
“You know me better than most, Potter.”
“I have your word?”
“My word. As your Minister of Magic and your friend.”
Harry didn’t think ‘friend’ was the right word for ‘adult who watched barely-adult war hero/ex-protégé/traumatized former recluse attempt to put the shards of his life back together,’ but he supposed it was as close as conventional language would allow. “Fine, then. Owl me the details?”
“I’m sending you home with an auror who will be sent the details by Patronus and relay them to you. It’s straight to the Manor after that. You’re to go downstairs and set up security measures on the way out.”
Harry made a half-effort at lightening things. “Jam flavors or childhood pets’ names?”
“Neither. I’m putting more wards on the Malfoy grounds and giving you an artifact for extra security.”
There went all hope of humor. “You’re putting the Trace back on me.”
“I can’t put the Trace back on you. You’ve been of age for four years.”
“‘An artifact for extra security?’” Harry raised his eyebrows.
“It will only activate if you’re in mortal peril.”
"What about the Malfoys?”
“There’s old magic in the grounds, and the house, that will help them if something goes wrong.”
Making eye contact again, so Kingsley would have to tell him the truth, “So it’ll buy them some time while me or an auror sounds the alarm? Possibly but not necessarily enough time?”
“You know our resources are straining, Harry, and I cannot justify wasting them on competent wizards who are already better protected than most of the country.”
“Right.” Selfish. Harry was being selfish. If Narcissa wanted to take the risk it wasn’t Harry’s place to stop her. And the risk she was taking was much less, he reminded himself, so much less than putting the entire school in danger, or worse, risking an attack in public where anyone could- “Will I be seeing you before I leave?”
“Probably not. France wants to hold a public spectacle of a meeting, and if I can’t convince more people to join our security team, I’m going to have to convince the president to bring more of his own security.”
“Can’t risk leaving the country in a time of national turbulence?”
Kingsley gave Harry that look, the one that was shrewd and worried and proud and- not quite disappointed. More like uncertain. Pleading, almost. “You would’ve made a great minister.”
“I never wanted to be minister. I never even wanted to be the Chosen One.”
“Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be good at it.” He moved on before Harry had a chance to get uncomfortable, “Now, if you’d kindly get out-”
Harry laughed shortly as Kingsley reached for a half-handshake, half-hug. “Best of luck using your valuable time on people more important than me.”
Kingsley stepped back, shaking his head. “I’ll need it. Robards has just requisitioned two muggle vehicles. Why on earth he needs two when he’s only got one auror who knows how to drive is beyond me.”
“Give him one with a reminder taped to the steering wheel.”
“Good advice as always, Harry. If you ever need a job-”
“Yes, of course, I know, call my friend the Minister of Magic and ask for one.” The meeting ended like all of the other ones had. “If I decide to leave retirement, you’ll be the first to know.”
Except when Kingsley said, “Stay safe out there, Potter,” Harry knew he meant it more ways than usual.
They sent him home with Auror Haden, a highly-competent thirtysomething witch known for her excellent judgment in the field and her uncanny ability not to bring cases home with her. It was a good fit for Harry, for the danger he was in, for how personal this was; she knew him, but Haden wasn’t going to let that get in the way of doing her job.
Harry left her in the drawing room with tea and a stack of old magazines and went up to pack. Normally she’d have to stay closer to him, but Grimmauld Place had at least half as much magic as the Manor and Harry had long been used to checking rooms for dark magic before he entered them. It was different in his house- he could feel the magic of it, familiar after years of living there- and he knew when he’d stepped inside that the place was clear.
What did one pack for an indefinite stay at the estate of one’s former enemy? Harry chose the clothes he always wore, faded t-shirts and jeans, jumpers with holes in the sleeves and all his favorite pairs of socks. Grudgingly, because he knew it’d be silly not to, he added dress robes. And dark trousers, and some nicer muggle shirts, because he wasn’t looking nice around them all the time just because they were Malfoys but he’d be damned if he was going to be unprepared.
Once his toothbrush and deodorant and everything else had been jammed into the bag with his clothes, Harry realized he had no room for anything else and started throwing things into his old school trunk instead. It wasn't like he was going to bring his entire bedroom, but he'd gone in hiding enough times to know how valuable a few good books could be.
Harry hadn’t been on a trip longer than a few days since… well, since. If the urge to run, the sensation of it, didn’t still light his nerves like a thousand matches struck at once, he could have said he’d forgotten. If his fingers didn’t twitch toward the knapsack at the back of his wardrobe every time he packed for anything. If his entire body didn’t echo with the familiar ache he hadn’t really felt in years, the feeling of not having the right wand, if the wrenching of apparition didn’t remind him of the adrenaline that just held back the terror, what if I do it wrong, if he didn’t still remember the feeling of keeping yourself from sleep because even if you trusted the person keeping watch you knew in your bones that people were fallible and if something went wrong it’d be your fault.
Harry didn’t want to go to Malfoy Manor, but he wanted to go to Hogwarts even less. At least the Malfoys had done something to make them owe the Ministry. At least he could imagine this was some twisted karmic retribution, some final gesture they’d need to take to guarantee to the wizarding public that they weren’t evil. He had never thought the Malfoys were evil- only cruel, only desperate. Lucius was in prison, but Narcissa, and Draco- they’d had reasons. Reasons good enough for Harry to all-but-insist to the Wizengamot that they shouldn’t be sent to Azkaban. Reasons good enough for him to doubt if they really deserved this, now, after everything the aftershocks of the war had put them through.
Wasn’t his decision to make, though. Killing the hero of the wizarding world would do far more for the remaining Death Eaters’ cause than attacking innocent people would. To Kingsley, Harry’s life was worth whatever risk the Malfoys were taking to protect him, and he hated it. Harry had always hated it. Dive in front of the killing curse to save the Chosen One because Merlin forbid the country lose morale.
It wasn’t like that. Wasn’t as simple as that, Harry knew. But he didn’t want to know it. He wanted to be able to disappear and make it all go away. He wanted to believe that if his name dropped out of the papers for five fucking minutes they’d forget about him and stop trying to use him.
But he couldn’t. Because that was the problem. If they stopped fixating on Harry, they’d start actually attacking muggles, and he couldn’t- couldn’t do that. Let it happen. If he still had a chance to help the Ministry catch them, if his diverting their attention made it easier to stop them-
So he kept doing it. That and everything else they needed from him. Showing up at functions and things and staying present even though he hadn’t gone back to finish school and wasn’t planning on getting a real job. This was a job, in its way, being close by when Kingsley needed some celebrity propaganda or, when Harry could convince him, bait. At least being bait made him feel like he was accomplishing something.
It was shit. But it was good. Harry didn’t know what he’d do if he didn’t have that- the sense of purpose without having to answer to someone. Pacing around Kingsley’s office every day, probably, with a salary and some title like ‘senior advisor’ and a series of Prophet articles dedicated to his rising political prowess. Either that or sitting in his house, doing... he didn't know what he'd be doing. Nothing, maybe.
Sometimes the bait part was absolute crap, being at the right place at the right time to convince someone to make this legislative decision or that donation. But times like now, when it meant someone else wasn’t getting hurt because Harry was taking the risk- that was why Kingsley gave in. He could see through Harry’s excuses, see the guilt Dumbledore had carefully cultivated over years, wearing and wearing the track. Guilt Kingsley had watched him put there, even. Kingsley knew keeping saving people- or not saving, but trying- it was the trying that was important, because Harry had to try or he was a coward and if he didn’t succeed the failure made him want to try that much harder next time- Kingsley knew that Harry was still trying to make up for it. All his attempts to get Harry to stop had fallen through. Eventually he just let Harry get on with it, accepted he wasn’t going to take no for an answer and hoped that after fifteen hundred tries Harry would realize putting himself in danger for others was not going to make up for the risk dead people had taken in a war that ended three years ago, because this Death Eater resurgence was not the war- bitterness, angry survivors, but not the war, not again- never never never never. It couldn’t be the war so that was why Harry kept failing.
It wasn’t that he- this hadn’t even happened that often. Three times, maybe four. The initial fallout that December, stopped by a wave of Ministry raids; the terrorists who targeted him to make a political statement, this one about anarchy; the time they’d gotten the ‘give us Harry Potter or we’ll attack the Ministry’ threats. That one had been the worst, because Harry couldn’t just evade capture and remain a distraction, like he was this time. Harry had been in the room when Kingsley decided his life was worth enough not to comply. When he’d taken the no-negotiation hardline and Harry had- Harry had- he’d tried-
Stop, he thought. You’re digging a hole. You can’t dig holes at Malfoy Manor. They won’t like it. It’ll mess up the grounds. And make you vulnerable.
Harry couldn’t be vulnerable. Not in front of them. For more reasons than he could name. He couldn’t often afford to dwell on the guilt, anyway, because it threatened to drive him mad (it had in the tent all those nights ago and it still did some nights now). Every time he did he dug a hole, worried the same thoughts over and over again until he was six feet under and trapped and still digging, and he didn’t like that Hermione had to figure out how to build a ladder, didn’t like that Ron had to lower a rope, so hard for them to do at first and so painful even once they’d learned how to do it. Because asking them for help was threatening to drag them down with him. And Harry valued the privacy of his own head too much to invite someone all the way into it.
His mind hadn’t been wholly his for seventeen years of his life. It’d take a fuck of a lot of motivation for him to give that up now.
“Ready to go, Mr. Potter?”
“I said you can call me ‘Harry.’”
“Not on the job I can’t. Shall we take this down-”
“I’ve got it,” he said, and waved a hand, and the cup was clean and away in the cupboard downstairs. If he concentrated hard enough he could have heard it clink into place beside the others.
“That really is impressive, you know.”
“Thanks,” he said, not really meaning it. Because being good at magic just made everything more complicated and he wasn’t prepared to dwell on those remembered arguments with Kingsley just then. “Let’s go.”
Haden side-alonged him. It was her job to be in control, and the flashbacks he’d had staring into his closet weren’t so much of a threat when he wasn’t doing the apparition himself. Harry was grateful for the respite. It would’ve made it even harder to walk through the Manor gates if he’d had to relive it all first.
That was another thing. About being him, he supposed. Harry had learned to control his thoughts, to plank over the guilt tracks and wall off the memories when he needed to, putting them behind an objective layer of glass so he could consider them without trapping himself in them.
“I’ve been instructed to escort you inside and then check in with everyone already stationed here.”
“They have an auror security detail?” Harry’s eyes widened. He would have thought that would be something Kingsley would have told him, what with their discussion of wasting resources.
“No. Two of our people were sent over at the same time you and I left the Ministry, but the Malfoys have hired private security.”
“Oh.” Harry supposed that was who Kingsley meant when he’d said he needed more people on his security force. Kingsley wasn’t big on guns-for-hire, but most private security firms hired ex-aurors, former cursebreakers, people with some type of formal training who had decided for one reason or another to get out of the public sector. Most of them were probably stored somewhere in the Ministry records. It was much easier to rescreen and rehire than it was to train new aurors.
Maybe the Minister’s old friend Narcissa would be willing to give him some names, people who might be interested in helping the Ministry in this time of national turmoil.
They passed through the gates, and Harry felt layers and layers of magic settle over him like a thick worn cloak brushing against his skin. He’d felt some of this in the grounds on the walk up, knew the sensation of wards and family property magic from Grimmauld Place, but that was nothing compared to this.
He wondered idly why he hadn’t sensed it before. Not that Harry had been back here in years. Seemed like the sort of thing he ought to have noticed the first time, though. Then again, they probably had twice as many wards up to protect them from the backlash they had to have started getting after the war. And Harry had hardly been this- calm, yep, that was the word for it, calm when your life was risking it for other people and that was all you knew how to do, especially when it was two Malfoys this time instead of an entire school or city or country- he’d hardly been this calm when he’d been there the first time.
Harry knocked. Auror Haden looked at him strangely. He glanced over at her.
“I thought you would have rung the bell,” Haden explained, skeptical.
“Friends knock. Strangers ring.”
Before Haden could respond to Harry’s suggestion, if she’d even been planning on it, the door swung open to reveal an older and more beautiful Malfoy than Harry could ever remember seeing.
The last time had been, what, after the trials? When they were both eighteen and still on the first aftershock, neither of them remotely aware that three years later they’d be thrown into each other’s paths again riding the fourth or fifth or sixth?
Harry’d lost count. He supposed the aftershocks would stop eventually, but until they did he was going to have to keep risking his life. This time it happened to involve Malfoy.
A gorgeous Malfoy, all tousled hair and soft-lit skin and the height of a little age gained and the hints of litheness and grace underneath the dark clothes even when he was standing perfectly still.
Malfoy, he thought. Of course it was Malfoy. Of course he looked like this, of course he had changed.
“Are you going to come in?” he asked, perplexingly amiable, and Harry realized he’d just been staring. No ‘hello,’ no ‘good to see you,’ no ‘sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances.’ He didn’t even know if he could have said any of those things. For the comment about friends knocking he hadn’t actually considered whether Malfoy would think of them as friends- and Harry didn’t, not really, but he knew Malfoy, or had known him, and that had to count for something.
“This is Auror Haden,” Harry said, because it felt like the polite thing to do after skipping the first round of pleasantries.
“I know,” Malfoy said, stepping back. “We’ve met. Ministry functions,” he explained with a nod to Haden. She nodded back, and then she and Harry were in and Malfoy was shutting the door. “Sorry it’s so dark. The house responds more to the weather than it used to. Something to do with the extra wards, I think.”
“It’s no problem,” Harry said. It really wasn’t. The lamps in the entrance hall were all lit against the cloudy sky, half the curtains open to let in what little light they could. It did look like the lamps could have been brighter, though, which Harry supposed was what Malfoy meant about the house responding to the weather. He wondered if Grimmauld Place would have responded the same way and remembered some days when it seemed like it, extra wards or not.
“They’ve set up security HQ in the room behind the kitchens,” Malfoy told Haden. “West wing, fourth door on your left. Call an elf if you get lost. And thank you. I’m glad to be working with you.” He said this last part warmly.
Haden gave him another nod. “No need to thank me, Mr. Malfoy. I’m just doing my job. But I am glad to be working with you, as well,” and she walked off.
“What was that about?” Harry asked as Haden disappeared through the door to the wing Malfoy had indicated.
Malfoy turned to Harry. “I know her. She’s a good auror. And this is a job, for me, too. Even if you don’t see taking responsibility for innocent civilians as work.” Before Harry could protest (and he didn’t know how he would have, given it had been partially true), Malfoy continued, “It’s been years.”
“You surprised me. I thought an elf would answer the door. Or an auror, maybe.”
“I haven’t seen you in three years.”
“Yes, and I surprised you. No need to go through that again.” Malfoy spun a slow circle, appraising the doors around the hall one by one until he was facing Harry again. “I’ve got things to do, but I suppose you need a tour.”
“I wouldn’t want to get in the way of your work.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Harry wondered how that was possible, given they’d started talking to each other in this strange half-cautious half-friendly way and neither was insulting the other and neither was pretending they were strangers, because even after three years they couldn’t be completely.
Malfoy was leading him up the stairs. “I’ll take you to your rooms, first, since that’s the most important place for you to know. They’ve put up six extra wards around that section of the house alone, one blanket privacy and anti-apparition ward and five that will activate when you get in. I presume you’ve got your things magically-compressed on your person somewhere?”
“Trunk. In my pocket.” And the stupid necklace. Add that to the wards.
“Right. Well, there’ll be plenty of room for that, and the elves wash anything left in the hamper. I was told that you can only leave to get any other things if you’re accompanied by two aurors. That sounds a little extreme, not to mention irritating for them to relay information through me instead of just telling you in the damned security briefing we’re all required to attend in two hours.” He was leading Harry down a long hall, finally coming to a stop in front of a door with a rose painted on the handle.
“Guess someone at the Ministry was worried I wouldn’t be able to behave without the reminder.”
Draco smirked. It was beautiful, like the rest of him, so different from any of the expressions Harry remembered, a look that said he’d been expecting this but found it funny, anyway, and Harry had to remind himself not to stare again. “Knowing you, it was probably the Minister himself.”
Harry grinned. “Probably.” He didn’t understand what they were doing, or how they were doing it, talking like the silent resolution they’d made not to hate each other or pity each other or resent each other after the trial had actually worked, had actually stuck. Maybe it had. They hadn’t had a chance before now to test it.
“If you don’t like sleeping here,” Draco said, opening the door and leading Harry inside, “I’m sure we can convince them to move you. It’d be a pain in the arse to recast everything, but I told them they should wait to set up the wards until you got here because people used to danger tend to prefer choosing their rooms when possible-”
“No,” Harry said hastily. “It’s fine.”
Draco met his eyes. Harry had been failing at not staring. “You haven’t even seen it yet.”
“The aurors are stretched thin enough as it is. Don’t want to give extra work to the few we’re stealing from real Ministry duties.”
“Even so, you should look. To make sure you can sleep here.”
Harry tore his eyes away from Draco and glanced around. Then he met Draco’s eyes again. “This is fine.”
“You’re making an awful lot of eye contact today.” Draco's eyebrows were up, expression amused, a fainter version of the smirk he’d worn before but one with much more challenge in it.
“You’re acting like everything’s fine.”
“It is. You’re an adult, I’m an adult, we agreed not to dredge up the past if ever we had the opportunity. This is the opportunity, and, as agreed, I’m not taking it. Neither are you, I don’t think.”
Harry shook his head slightly.
“Exactly,” Draco said. “So, yes, I’m acting like everything’s fine. It is, last I checked.”
Draco smiled, a challenging smile, one that said ‘I dare you to contradict me’ in a way that was meant for friends and not. Whatever they were. “Third time you’ve said it, but I get the feeling you don’t believe it.”
Harry sighed. “I guess I expected… Nothing. I didn’t expect anything. I just didn’t think it’d be like this. Seeing you again. I thought one of us would break or something, forget the war was over and-”
“Do something stupid?” Draco finished, eyes sparkling with bitter amusement this time.
“Well,” Draco said, making for the door, “I can promise you if one of us does something stupid it isn’t going to be me. And don’t be silly. People like us can never forget the war.” Draco leaned in the doorway, pulled up his left sleeve, and Harry wasn’t expecting it. It was too much too fast, made him dizzy for a second before he flitted his eyes back up to Draco’s. “The only thing you seem to have forgotten is that it doesn’t end. It won’t end. History doesn’t work that way. It’s in us forever, whether we like it or not, and everything you or I do has the potential to be scrawled in a history book under the heading ‘aftermath of the war’ and still be considered accurate. True now, true tomorrow, true in ten years. All we can do is hope one day it won’t hurt so much. That we’ll forget the shadow of it, I suppose, since the real thing is beyond forgetting.”
Since. Since since since. Draco’d gone through so many loops of logic Harry didn’t know if he could follow them all. It all made sense to him, somehow, though. Didn’t necessarily make sense objectively, but it made sense to him.
People talking about the war usually didn’t. “I thought we were being friendly.”
“You’ve just told me I’ll always be reduced to the Chosen One, and you’ll always be reduced to a Death Eater.”
“Those things are true. Not pleasant, maybe, but true. And I didn’t want to hurt you when I said them.”
“I don’t believe you,” Harry said. Because people like them knew better than to expect something like that wouldn’t hurt. “But it didn’t sound like you were. Trying to hurt me, I mean. So, in the absence of proof, I guess- sure. Why not. It’s still friendly.”
Draco smiled. “We’re going to get along well, I think.”
“If you didn’t, would you have let me through the door?”
Draco was still smiling. “If I said ‘yes’ would you believe me?”
Harry didn’t answer. Instead he went up to Draco, maybe a little too close, and said, “You still owe me the rest of the tour.”
Harry didn’t think Draco owed him anything. That was why he’d thought it would be so hard to be here. Why he’d thought it would be difficult to put him and Narcissa at risk, because for all Harry had tried to convince himself they might not have paid their debt to society, Harry couldn't really believe they hadn’t. He was there because this was the lowest risk.
Draco looked at him like he could see some of that, like Harry was trying to tell him without saying it, which maybe he was, and said, “I did promise,” and gave him the rest of the tour.
The Manor was big, and old, and there was magic in the walls. There was magic in the air. Harry could taste it when he breathed. Compartmentalization kept the flashbacks out, like it always had. He was good at it. Heroes had to be good at it.
He didn’t want to be a hero. Wasn’t, in most senses of the word. But he was there for a heroic reason, and the pretense of friendliness was worth too much for however long he would have to stay, worth too much to lose it having a breakdown or starting an argument. Harry didn’t know what they would argue about. There was nothing. It was the breakdown part that worried him. He couldn’t fight with Draco unless Draco wanted to fight, and he didn’t. Antagonize him, yes, maybe. Fight, though? No. There would’ve had to have been malice in his voice when he said it. Not the bare honesty of someone stating facts.
They were facts. That was why Harry hadn’t shouted or cried out or protested at all or punched him in the face. Because if Malfoy couldn’t say things like that to him they weren’t going to get along. That was the point, he thought. It was a test to see if Harry was committed to this- this thing they had to do. And he was, so he hadn’t snapped, and Draco seemed pleased by this and kept acting friendly the whole rest of the afternoon. He didn’t say another word about the war, didn’t even make another joke about the Chosen One’s savior complex. There were only suggestions of jokes, things like ‘knowing you it was the Minister himself,’ but Malfoy never said them. He just let Harry catch the flash in his eyes and then it was gone, replaced by a professional flickering of warmth that was welcoming without being obvious about it.
Accommodating, maybe. That was the word. Considerate. It was intensely considerate of him to have thought Harry would want to choose his own room. Harry didn’t think that was a lie, either, because the more he saw this Draco the more he knew his honesty. Draco didn’t lie. His comments were deductive and useful, his compliments based in fact, his reactions backed by expressions that promised they were the same underneath the polite restraint, underneath the composure. If Draco wanted to laugh he laughed, once or twice, short, and his eyes promised all the mirth that might have been behind it. The same emotion less concentrated.
He was like that with everything. Just enough but not pushing. He held the door open for Harry, but acted like it was such a natural thing that Harry didn't once feel weird about it. He made pauses in speech or movement, hesitations Harry felt rather than saw or heard, when he came across the spaces that could mean tortured friends or dead professors to Harry. He didn’t make them into voids, suck the meaning out; he let them exist without making them a big deal, because he could tell that Harry didn’t want to.
At every turn Harry got the sense that he was a guest in Draco’s home. He’d said it was work, and the way he talked about entrances and exits and wards indicated that was as true as everything else he’d said, but this was also where he lived and he cared whether or not Harry felt comfortable there. Wanted him to as much as was possible.
Which, if Malfoy was going to be like this, it might be.
His mother was out. She’d be back by dinner at seven and would check in with security later; they needed to get to the meeting.
Harry hadn’t realized it had been two hours.
“The tour was slower than usual,” Malfoy explained when Harry pointed this out.
“Didn’t think you’d know what to do with yourself and wanted to make sure you knew I wasn't going to bite before we got to talking about how, precisely, our lives might depend on each other.”
Harry could feel the meaning as clear and honest as if it were a ripple of magic, a caress of it, reassuring him. Like, yes, I bite, I almost did back there talking about the war, but not you, to you I mean well.
Which was fucked, in terms of logic, but it was- that was Malfoy. He supposed they had always made sense to each other, in their way, in a way other people couldn’t really understand.
“Thank you. For that and for… this. For putting yourself at risk like this. Opening your home, and everything.” Harry thought when the word ‘home’ came up it’d taste like bile or blood or something equally unpleasant, but instead it just tasted like truth. A truth that ached a little, but truth nonetheless.
“We all have to do our part to save the innocent muggles.” He held Harry’s eyes. “You’re welcome.”
The meeting was tedious and repetitive and included most of the things Draco had told him on the tour and little else. Harry wondered about that, wondered if Draco had done it on purpose or if he’d even had an idea of what the meeting would cover.
Harry wasn’t confined to the house, per say, but he couldn’t leave it without auror escort. Even the grounds were too risky; he had to stay within the perimeter, which went from the front gate to the house to the gated outer edge of the closest back garden, the farthest he could go if he wanted any semblance of privacy.
It was fine. He’d gotten used to auror escorts at fifteen. By twenty-one they were as tried and familiar as an old coat, comfortable for necessity if for no other reason. He knew the whole Auror Department. Hell, he’d looked after Haden’s cat the last time she’d gone on holiday.
There'd only be one auror stationed there all the time. They were banking on the house security, on the locket, on the wards the other two had come before Harry and Haden to put up or check and recheck. The extra wards on his rooms were there to protect him when he was vulnerable. If, by some miracle, someone managed to get through the layers and layers of protection on the house, Harry would either have had time to react to the situation or be behind six additional wards. They would wake him up if he were asleep, send a signal to the Ministry, activate more of the house magic than either Harry or Draco was comfortable with (because this wasn’t Harry’s house, it wasn’t his magic to take, and that could mean Draco and Narcissa had less of a chance and that was… another of the things Kingsley did that Harry wished he could call unacceptable but couldn’t because he didn’t want the responsibility that would give his opinion that much weight). All of this would hopefully buy him enough time to prepare or escape. Kingsley preferred escape. Harry never had.
Harry’d had years to prepare for the possibility of there not being enough time. Years and years to learn that feeling, every inch of it, down to his bones. Didn’t matter. Still felt like shit. Still gave him goosebumps. Made him want to start digging the self-pity hole or the sanity grave or whatever it was he was doing when he started torturing himself with ‘not enough’ and ‘too late.'
He wouldn’t have Ron and Hermione to get him out this time. Harry was treating this like quarantine; he wasn’t going to let them get dragged into the crossfire if more lives didn’t depend on it. All he’d have was a secure Floo channel and his existing knowledge of Ron and Hermione’s schedules, which, if he was being honest, was questionable at best. Sorry we can’t come to the fire right now. Please notify us of your crisis and return to your bad memories after the flash.
Worst came to worst he could always try Malfoy. They would both hate it, but Harry had a feeling it’d be a way to give that back- some of that truth Malfoy had found it necessary to fling at him for whatever convoluted reason he’d done it. Harry had plenty of that stored up for rainy days. He was willing to share.
After the meeting Malfoy said, “It’s not like you have to dress for dinner, but you should try to be on time. Mother sometimes likes to do courses and it throws the timing off when someone’s late.”
“Don’t house elves know the best food stasis magic known to exist?”
“Yes, but not all Malfoys are as patient as I am.”
“That’s refreshing,” Harry said. “That you’re patient. At least now, when you haven’t gotten tired of me yet.”
“I got tired of you years ago, Potter. I expect no matter how much you’ve changed a part of me always will be.”
That was true, Harry thought. Because he’d always be tired of Malfoy. They were doing something new, this refusing to go over it and over it, but Harry still knew him. Still knew the reactions he’d have even if they were different from the ones before, could still get close to predicting them, and had, he thought, almost remastered it. Three hours werer enough. “I hope for both our sakes your patience holds.”
“I think there’s about a 50-50 chance.” Draco held eye contact. They weren’t smiling, neither of them. Draco was joking but he wasn’t smiling. Maybe not entirely joking.
Finally Harry said, “I’ll see you in an hour, then,” and retreated.
“Harry! So good to see you,” Narcissa said, embracing him. He hadn’t expected that. Malfoys surprising him up and down that day. “I only wish it had been under better circumstances.”
This was not unprecedented. He had seen her once or twice, run into her in the street or the Ministry and talked. They’d gotten coffee once, years ago, when Harry had just convinced himself to go outside again. It was the next summer, the summer after that first one, the summer after the summer after the war, and Harry had decided instead of apparating everywhere- because that was better than the risk of being spotted in the street- that it would be alright to start walking. Alright to take the risk. He’d only been walking for a week when he turned a corner and saw her, just sitting down at an outside table with an icy glass of tea. She had invited him to sit, and he’d said yes, thinking, she saved your life, of course you should.
And now she was standing here in front of him without an unkind word, again, not a hint of displeasure or distaste at the inconvenience he was causing her, the worse-than-inconvenience.
And yet somehow she didn’t sound as honest as Draco. Her son, Harry thought. He was endangering her son.
Dinner was cool and almost familiar. Their conversations were complicated, dances around the significant without saying anything that might offend. Harry found it unexpectedly easy to reconcile this with the Draco of earlier. He didn't know exactly why. When they’d been alone Draco hadn’t been like that- but then, that hadn’t really been alone, not really. Harry and Draco had been alone, but not- not in the normal sense. It didn’t matter Harry wanted to kiss him, didn’t matter he didn’t know why for that either, because they had deadlines and responsibilities and it wasn’t really a private moment. There wasn't danger in the possibility that someone might have walked in and heard Draco tearing Harry down with precision- anyone could have, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Nothing would have been shattered, nothing broken by the intrusion. Because they weren’t getting too close.
That was it. In Narcissa more than Draco. They didn’t get too close. Harry was used to this. It was how he’d lived his life for ages. Pick up a fit bloke in a coffee shop, but don’t get too close. Take that girl from the club on a few dates, but don’t get too close. Have Ron and Hermione over for all the insignificant holidays, but don’t get too close.
Because even though he was closer to them than anyone else, there were still some things he couldn’t tell them.
Harry had a feeling he could have told them to Draco, and Draco would have laughed. Not that restrained one, either. He would have really laughed, thrown his head back and let peals of it escape his lips in confirmation of Harry’s words as much as to say ‘Potter, you’re absurd.’ He was absurd, he knew it, and Draco could see through him. Even when neither of them was trying.
He’d known Draco again for all of four hours and he felt like he’d known him for years. Like in all the time that had passed Harry had been just close enough to watch Draco change, so all of him made perfect sense now.
Harry wondered if Draco was good at reading people. If he was deducing what he was about Harry, and acting on it the way he was, because he was good at reading people, or if he’d snapped back to knowing like the click of something where it’s supposed to fit the second Harry stepped through the door.
After dinner there was an interlude to all three of them dispersing for the evening (or maybe an exitlude for dinner): coffee. Some of the tension dissolved, three sets of shoulders melting into the backs of armchairs and warm dark liquid easing the chill from Harry’s skin. It mellowed him, warmed him from the inside out, and he saw some of the social caution thaw in Draco and Narcissa. They weren’t quite so formal about everything, quite so careful. Harry didn’t know if it was change of venue or x number of minutes spent with him. He didn’t know if he’d come to dinner the next day and find them frozen again or still this relaxed.
He realized he didn’t care, because this wasn’t awful. It wasn’t a nightmare. It was just work. Draco’s casual tones reminded him that it was just work. Narcissa’s notes of appreciation for the Ministry’s thoroughness reminded him it was just work. The way he felt a smile come unbidden to his lips when Draco finally, finally made another joke about him reminded him this was just work.
Because if Draco was really playing, if he really wanted to see how far he could push Harry, he wouldn’t be doing what Harry expected. He’d be doing the opposite. Making a joke about there being ‘no higher honor than hosting Potter in our humble abode’ and following it with a sincere word about ‘doing his best to make this as painless as possible’ was- it was Draco again. Doing what Harry’d come to expect in the past few hours with the twist of what he’d expected before them. I’m still Draco, you’re still Harry, we’re going to get through this as best we can.
Maybe ‘I’m still Malfoy, you’re still Potter’ would have been more accurate.
But Harry didn’t want to call him ‘Malfoy’ anymore.
“It’s been a day, Harry.” Hermione’s voice dragged him away from his tenth reiteration that Malfoy had become a decent human being since they were in school.
Since everything. “I know.”
“And you don’t have to reassure me. I've heard about all he's done. And I trust your judgment, even if the repetition is starting to be a bit of a red flag.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I just…”
“Can’t believe it?”
Hermione sighed, and Harry heard her say something over her shoulder but couldn’t make out the words. “I know,” she said at the end, and Ron’s figure came into view next to her.
“’Mione’s got to go to work.”
“What? You just got home ten minutes ago!”
“I know,” she said with an apologetic smile, “but it’s an important case. I’m sorry I couldn’t talk more. We’ll have to find a time again soon.”
“Yeah. See you later. Good luck with… everything.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you, Harry.” She went.
“What’s been going on with Malfoy, then?” Ron said, easy as anything.
“Depends what Hermione told you.”
His ears went red, visible even through the Floo. “Nothing. Honestly, mate, if there weren’t actually people out to get you I’d think you were getting a bit paranoid.”
Harry grinned. “Constant vigilance, Ron." Then he frowned. "Hasn’t she been working overtime for a month?”
Ron shrugged. “No getting around it. We’ve caught a handful of the bunch that’s after you, but with the specific confessions they’re making prosecution’s a bloody nightmare. We know they’re doing it to fuck up the case. We just can’t figure out how- never mind. You don’t need that. Work, you know? You’re busy enough with- what have you been doing?”
“In the twenty-four hours since I’ve been free, you mean?”
“Nothing much. I can’t bother Kingsley from here. Mostly today I’ve just been wandering around. Probably go down to the library after this and do… something. I could try writing one of the reform bills Kingsley complains someone ought to write.”
“Going to start petitioning the Ministry to actually get something done?”
“I’ll probably be rubbish at it and give up halfway through. Maybe someone in his office can fix it up enough to be worth having the Chosen One’s name slapped on it.” Harry realized a second too late that the bitterness was there, that the phrase hadn't come off the way he’d intended it.
Ron caught it. He always caught it. “Hey. Don’t do that to yourself.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, too quickly.
“It’s not me you should be apologizing to, mate,” Ron said with a sigh. “I just don’t want you getting cooped up in there and start… you know?”
“Yeah.” Start falling back into old patterns, he maybe would have said. Start losing the ground you’ve gained so far, losing the ability to be a functional human being. Harry had grasped for that, clawed for it. He wasn’t better, but he could sort of start to see himself approaching it. The Ministry was work even though it wasn’t. His love life was healthy even though it wasn’t. His mental state was livable even though it wasn’t.
“Well, if you ever need to talk…” Ron didn’t push him like Hermione did. He didn’t say ‘you ought to see a professional, Harry.’ Sometimes ‘we all need help’ but never ‘you should to go to a mind healer.’ Never from Ron.
That maybe made him a shitty friend, Harry realized. Not intentionally, just- misguided. Because Hermione was right. Harry was hell-bent on not listening to her, hell-bent on preserving the sanity people didn’t expect him to be able to keep hold of. Keeping everyone else out. But she was right. He should see someone.
Harry sighed. “I know. Firecall you.”
“Right.” Ron looked a little relieved. Something in Harry’s tone, maybe.
Something that reassured Ron Harry wasn’t getting obsessed with Malfoy again. That’s what they were thinking. Harry suspected it was what Hermione had said to him earlier. But Harry couldn’t bring it up to them. He couldn’t let them know he was aware of it, because that would- they’d think he was justifying it. And he had nothing to justify. He thought Malfoy was beautiful and liked to stare at him. He thought Malfoy was telling the truth. He liked the way Malfoy treated him better than the ways other people did. Harry couldn’t explain these things to Ron or Hermione. He had, after all, only been at the Manor a day- Hermione had a point. But he wasn’t doing anything stupid, like lashing out or falling in love or Merlin forbid trusting him.
Harry was just. Waiting. “Night, Ron.”
Harry sat back on his heels. It was almost dinner. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans again, though these jeans weren’t as nice as the ones he’d worn to his Very Important meeting with Kingsley. The hems were frayed he’d worn this pair so often.
They were his favorite. They fit the best.
Harry went down on time. He wasn’t trusting Malfoy, but that didn’t mean he wanted to rock the boat. They had a truce. Harry didn’t know how deep it ran. He had to be careful. The warning Hermione had laced into her words was a good one. She had been using the ‘be careful, Harry,’ tone. He knew it from nights in the tent and days spent walking the perimeter.
he was trapped like that again, Harry wanted to do all the same things. He wanted to walk that path with his feet, not just his mind. He wanted to walk through all the corridors of the house and beat a dirt path into the grass just inside the boundaries of the wards. Ron was right. He was already feeling this and he’d been there a day. Hermione was right. He had to be careful.
It was just-
Good advice didn’t mean anything when Malfoy looked at him like that.
“Hello,” Malfoy said, dropping into his chair. “Have a nice day?” He was looking at Harry like he was more than mildly interested. Like he cared whether or not Harry’s day had been nice.
It was the first time Harry’d seen him since the night before. “Bit boring. Expect I’ll start writing a tell-all memoir just for something to do.”
Narcissa laughed. It tinkled, delicately chiming like a bell.
Alright, Harry thought. Back to being frozen, then. “What did you do today?”
“Foundation work, mostly.” Yesterday Harry learned Malfoy worked for the Malfoy Foundation instead of just owning it. He didn’t know what they did- he knew Kingsley worked things out with Narcissa whenever the Foundation and the Ministry had to be involved with each other, but Kingsley had never said much about it to Harry.
Draco hadn’t volunteered an explanation, and Harry hadn’t asked. It didn’t seem to fit into this fragile thing they were doing at dinner.
He’d ask at coffee. “If there’s ever anything I can do to help you should let me know. I’ve never done especially well locked in a house.” That was true. Harry had felt ten times better the first day he’d gone into the Ministry to do a favor for Kingsley. It was like he’d forgotten, being in the house so long, what it was like to seem like a normal person. To just do things, like he wasn’t fighting to keep his memories from burying him.
Now it was easy as breathing. Just had to get the hang of it. Compartmentalization. Three months of grieving and four doing a little more than he wanted to at the Ministry and his ability to shove the horrors of his past from the forefront of his mind was good as new.
“You aren’t locked in. Except at night, and even then you could still leave,” Malfoy said. “Though I suppose needing an auror escort to exit the wards is somewhat disheartening.”
Harry would've had to call another one in from the Ministry to meet their requirements, and he wasn't going to. “Just a bit.”
They kept talking like that, skirting issues, until it was coffee.
Time for Harry to ask. “What kind of work do you do at the Foundation?”
“All types of charity work. We have to be careful not to get involved in too much, because there will always be too many good causes, but it’s- really rewarding.” There was this expression on Draco’s face, something like, ‘this is how I’m trying,’ and it was clear he didn’t have to ask how Harry was.
Harry was doing it just then. “What were you working on today?”
“Nothing important. Property stuff.” That was a lie. It was the first time Malfoy’d lied to Harry since he’d come there.
Narcissa yawned. “I think I’m going to bed early, darling. As ever, let me know if you need anything, Harry.”
“Goodnight.” Narcissa swept from the room.
This was alone.
Harry was making it be. “Why did you lie to me just now?”
“Are these the effects of the strong magic you’re rumored to have? Indirect legilimency?”
“No. Ron and Hermione lie to me all the time. Loads of people lie to me. It’s just you, I think.”
“But you can tell when they’re lying?”
“Not always. Stop avoiding the question.” Harry was pushing. Harry didn’t do that.
Except now he was. And Draco was challenging him back. “What if I don’t want to answer? You’re being awfully rude to someone who’s invited you into their home.”
“Malfoy.” Harry said it like, ‘we both want to discuss this, don’t we.’
Draco seemed to agree. “What did you mean, it’s just me?”
“I meant since I came here I felt like you were telling the truth- didn’t- I just knew. It felt different when you said that.”
“You just knew?”
“You sound like Snape.”
“I- what?” Malfoy looked confused, cautious.
“There’s the honesty I was- it’s- something he said to me once. When I said that about you. No one trusts my instincts.”
“You have instincts about me?”
“I have instincts about everything. Why did you lie?”
Malfoy smiled. “It wasn’t technically a lie. I was withholding.”
“It felt like a lie to me.”
“Yes, I suppose the unimportant bit was. Why am I entertaining this?”
It was Harry’s turn to smile. “Because I was right.”
Harry felt guilty. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“Wasn’t going to. Just.” Draco shook his head. “I didn’t want to tell you because I keep it close. When I talk to you I feel like I might accidentally say too much.”
“You keep talking to me, though.”
“Notice how I avoided you today.”
“I haven’t been here that long.”
“No, you haven’t. And yet. Here we are.” Draco stared at him.
Harry stared back.
They held eye contact until Draco broke away and started bouncing his foot. His legs were crossed, his posture impossibly relaxed despite the conversation they’d just been having, and Harry would have thought the foot bouncing was a very un-Draco-like gesture if he hadn’t been living in his vicinity for twenty-four hours.
Harry sighed. “Why’d you really say that yesterday?”
Foot still bouncing, “I was trying to get a rise out of you.”
“Did it work?”
Draco’s smile was challenging again. “I think you’d know better than I-”
“Did it work?” Harry repeated, a bit more insistent this time.
Draco’s smile got soft. A little wondering. Still all behind that layer of whatever professionalism or caution or restraint he had up all the time. “No. It never does with you. Go the way I planned. It always- you always do something to surprise me. When we were in school I’d expect cruelty and get rage. It wasn’t even directed at me, half the time, like-” like mine wasn’t directed at you, he didn’t say. Harry just knew it. Draco knew he knew it. “I don’t know why I expected... but that’s not important. What’s important is that I said it, and you didn’t jump down my throat about it, and that… let me know you’re different. Than before, I mean.”
“I wanted to.” When Draco didn’t show recognition, Harry added, “Jump down your throat about it.”
The smile fell from Draco’s face to be replaced by seriousness, gravity, the kind of gravity Harry had used to get Draco to keep looking at him a moment before. “Why didn’t you?”
Harry smiled. “Isn’t this more fun?”
They went back to talking about unimportant things, and Harry wondered if it counted as victory this time. Not getting too close.
Every time Draco lied he did it smiling. He warned Harry before the words made it out of his mouth.
Draco had let him help with some of the paperwork for the Foundation, all of it connected to shelters for people the Ministry or the muggle government didn’t have the resources to help. Harry hated that excuse, ‘didn’t have the resources,’ but he’d learned that it was legitimate. Most of the rich fucks still controlling the Ministry insisted they focus their efforts on rebuilding national confidence. Harry didn’t know what withholding assistance from muggleborns whose lives had been ruined by the war had to do with rebuilding national confidence, but he’d been the figurehead of enough Ministry-sponsored fundraisers to know Kingsley, at least, was doing all he could to direct the funds to the people that needed them most.
And then there was Draco. Doing this. Smiling brightly when Harry asked what drew him to this project and parroting, “We all have to do our part,” like the first day. Not meaning it. Using it as an excuse to cover up his real reasons for getting involved in this specific charity.
And smiling. To let Harry know he was lying about it.
“I think you’re beautiful,” said Harry, then, just because.
Draco stopped smiling. “I know. You were staring at my arse every time you weren’t making eye contact on the tour. If I went across the room right now you’d-”
“No.” Harry shook his head. “If you went across the room I’d watch the lines of your back. The way the muscles moved under them. I’d watch how graceful you were, just walking, just going a few feet in your own house. More graceful, maybe, for knowing this place so well. And looking like you belong here.”
Draco looked unbothered, a hint of a smirk flashing in his expression. “So it’s aesthetic appreciation, then?”
Harry smiled with just his eyes. It was a close thing, not letting it get to his lips. He wanted to. “On the first day I was staring at your arse.”
Draco looked confused. Not like he didn’t believe Harry, like- like he could tell that Harry was lying. Sort of. Because Harry had thought he was beautiful then, too. So he was technically… withholding.
Draco’s expression settled into polite amusement. “I guess that’s fine, then. Seeing as how I wanted to rip those jeans off you yesterday. The calves were alright, but the thighs? Merlin, Potter. No one should go out looking like that. It’s dangerous. Seducing people left and right without realizing you’re doing it.”
He knew the jeans were fine. This was all Malfoy. “I thought that was part of the appeal.”
“It is, usually. You acknowledging it sort of fucks it up.”
“Sorry. I’ll play clueless next time.”
Draco frowned. “Don’t.”
“Knowing looks better on you than clueless.”
They just got back to normal after that. Harry kept reminding himself not to get too close. It wasn’t hard with Malfoy, actually, because even though Harry knew he could say anything to him, he also knew Malfoy was making an effort to keep him at arm’s length. Malfoy had said it, said he was afraid of telling Harry too much, and something about Malfoy being worried about it made it easier for Harry not to be.
They both had a vested interest in not getting too close. Harry didn’t know what Malfoy’s was. His honesty didn’t reveal that much, didn’t run into things deep enough that it could have.
They were being friendly. They were talking. They weren’t getting too close.
Harry’s days fell into a pattern. This pattern was much easier than the one he wanted to walk around the property, much, much, easier than the one the sight of specific rooms wanted to burn into his skull. Get up, eat breakfast, find Malfoy, ask for work, do it if there is some, don’t if there isn’t any. Half the time Malfoy wasn’t even home during the day. He had a real job, after all, one that didn’t stop because Harry Potter was secretly living in his house. Every once in a while Harry would be in the entrance hall when he came in (because the whole house had anti-apparition wards- the ones on his room were just stronger).
Malfoy looked happy. He would open the door, step in, take off his scarf once the days had started having a chill, look a little flushed even when they didn’t. He looked warm. The inside kind of warm.
It was the kind he tried to reach out and offer to Harry in small things. The ways he was considerate. Sometimes he’d even do the ‘this is what I’m doing, this is how I’m doing it’ expression in a way that insisted Harry could do it to.
But Harry didn’t really know how.
He’d been trying. This whole thing was him trying. He had done everything that was asked of him and more. He had gone to all the fundraisers. Sponsored all the Ministry resolutions. Shook hands. Smiled and nodded at the offhand comments about him being Minister one day, because even if he wasn’t on the Ministry payroll there were still people who thought it’d flatter him to imply he should be.
And he was doing this, now, again. Time number four or five or however many national security threats Harry was on by then.
He got updates mostly from Ron. Kingsley was so entangled with the French government that he couldn’t block out more than an hour for an actual national security meeting, which wasn’t helping the Auror Department. Kingsley had to know it’d look bad, former auror not able to stick around for the entire meeting, so whatever was going on with France had to be a mess. Harry felt guilty about it because he wasn’t there to help. He wasn’t there to sit in on the meetings and give the stupid fucking press conferences and fundraisers that’d get the aurors the funding they needed to get things done without the diversion of resources Kingsley didn’t have the time, let alone the ability, to divert. Harry was doing ‘important international liaison work.’ That was his excuse for being out of the society pages for so long. That was the explanation they were feeding the press to keep someone from catching onto his connection to the Auror Department’s biggest case in years.
Ron couldn’t tell him that much, but Harry could see from the exhaustion in his face that it was just getting more complicated the farther they got in the investigation.
“I’m sorry I can’t do anything,” Harry said, meaning it.
“Nah, mate. There isn’t much you’d be able to do without official security clearance. You’re doing us more good over there than you would be here. Trust me.”
Ron’s voice only went up at the end like that when he was lying. Harry didn’t know if he should push it. “I could be helping Kingsley.”
“Ah. Well.” Ron rubbed the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable.
“It’s not really… I mean, technically it isn’t classified, but most of this stuff’s on a need-to-know basis, and I think it’d be safer if-”
Ron sighed. “Kingsley’s got a new Junior Minister.”
Harry blinked. “How’s that need-to-know information?”
“You know how it is. He’s still in the trial stage. No official press releases until they’re sure he can help Kingsley get a handle on the auror funding problem.” But Ron still looked uncomfortable.
“Well, I…” Ron took a deep breath. “He’s supposed to be doing all the things you do.”
“Your job, Harry. Or your unofficial duties, or whatever. The things Kingsley delegates to you because you’re retired and bored.” Ron had never argued with Harry’s retirement joke, had always known that in some ways it wasn’t a joke. That even though Harry tried to help out wherever he could at the end of the day he was done. He knew Harry was done. He never argued. He wasn’t arguing now.
Except calling it a job didn’t make it feel like Harry was done.
A stupid fucking test, an uncertainty, planting a seed of doubt, or trying to dig one out of himself. Whatever it was Malfoy was trying to do when he’d said it. It doesn’t end. It won’t end. It’s in us forever, whether we like it or not.
“Harry?” Ron sounded scared.
“Fuck. Sorry.” He had to know he hadn’t hurt Harry. Harry couldn’t let Ron see that a memory had just cracked him open and was letting all the other ones out.
“Are you alright?”
“Look, Harry, I didn’t mean-”
“Ron.” He smiled. It felt like the smile Draco gave him when he was lying. Ron didn’t know that smile. “I’m fine.”
Years of compartmentalization made Ron believe him. “Alright. Things have been hectic for a while, and really Kingsley shouldn’t have left that job open as long as he did.”
How long had it been? A year, Harry’s memories told him from behind the glass. Except they weren’t behind the glass anymore, they were flooding him. It’s been a year since Kingsley fired the last one. The seat’s been vacant for a fucking year. He left the interim Junior Minister in, but that had been just a title. Kingsley had tried to take everything on himself before. That’s why he fired the idiot his advisors had recommended to him, just before he fired the advisors. “I’m glad he’s found someone. It’ll make dealing with France easier.”
Ron laughed. “I hope so. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Compartmentalization. Since. There was no other way to do this. “Yeah.”
“Still helping with the Malfoy Foundation?”
“Gives me something to do.” When Draco was home. When he wasn’t Harry had to fight the tingling in his skin that was telling him to run. To leave.
He’d thrown away the shovel, but he still wanted to get under the dirt, where it was safe. Burrow under it, get out of the wind.
Harry would have still been trying to bury the memories if living in Malfoy Manor hadn’t finally convinced him what he should have learned years ago. That it was impossible.
So, he’d been hung up on this for a while, then. On Draco being right.
Wasn’t fair he’d got there so much bloody sooner than Harry. Harry would have thought at some point he’d realize he was doing the Junior Minister’s job and not getting paid for it. That it wouldn’t take an extended leave of absence and a veiled implication that Harry would be jealous of another person helping Kingsley. Or the country. Whoever he was supposed to be helping when he kissed the arses of the people Kingsley didn’t have time for.
“We really are doing everything we can. I’m frustrated enough here.” Ron didn’t say ‘I can’t imagine how hard it is for you doing nothing’ because he didn’t have to. Harry knew he meant it. Ron had spent plenty of time in the tent with him.
“I’ve got to go bring dinner to Hermione, she’s-”
“Using cleaning spells instead of showers again?”
Ron shook his head. “She’s left the office once the past three days. And that was to run home to find some old case notes.”
“Tell her if she doesn’t come home I’m going to the Ministry myself to convince her.”
Ron snorted. “With or without the escorts?”
After a second, Ron’s expression sobered. “Think that’ll startle her enough to realize she deserves a break?”
“Probably not. But it’s worth a try.”
“Good luck with Hermione.”
“Thanks.” Ron sighed and ended the call.
Harry hadn’t seen either of them in person in three months.
“Have a nice Floo call yesterday?” Draco sounded genuinely curious. He had reason to be. Harry’s life was a drama playing out in his house.
Harry would be interested, too. “Yeah. How’d the meeting go?”
“Oh, fantastic. Richardson wants to set aside three square kilometers and sell them.”
Harry laughed. “I thought the point was to stop gentrification.”
“It’d be a miracle if we could find someone to convince him.” Draco tilted his head. “Your Floo call didn’t go well.”
Harry had learned about four days into their cohabitation that Draco was as good at noticing Harry’s lies as Harry was noticing his; Draco just wasn’t as obvious about it. Giving Harry space. Preserving careful distance. Like the three feet of entrance hall tile that separated them now. “Kingsley’s finally replaced me.”
Draco looked at him. Really looked. And then, quiet, concerned, “I thought you didn’t work there.”
“I didn’t want to admit I worked there. There’s a difference, apparently.”
“Ah.” His expression was unreadable, and Harry didn’t like it. Draco’s expression was only unreadable when he was thinking about something too serious to show Harry.
Kind of like Harry’s must have been, when he talked about his friends, or the Ministry, except this time it wasn’t. He wasn’t hiding anything from Draco. Not this, at least. “I was unofficial Junior Minister for over a year, and I fucking hated it.”
Malfoy’s eyebrows pulled in. “They didn’t even give you credit. All the Prophet ever said was ‘philanthropic advisor to the Minister.’”
Harry wanted to talk again. He wanted to pour some of these things into Malfoy, so he didn’t have to be the only one who knew them anymore. “I wouldn’t let them. And it would have been more dangerous, anyway. If I let them put me on the payroll that’d make it real. My quest for redemption. Trying to make up for the war. This thing that you’re doing with charity work and I was doing helping Kingsley with his attempts at internal reform until my being the Chosen One got in the way. Again.”
Malfoy’s voice was barely audible. “Your being the Chosen One is what made you do it in the first place.”
Harry was closer. Close enough to hear him. “I know.”
“Kingsley shouldn’t have let you do that for so long.”
“Your friends let you lie to yourself.”
“Why?” The word was exquisite, delicate, as carefully distinguishable from the air around it as Draco’s eyelashes were from each other.
“I thought it would hurt less.”
“Not by a long shot.”
Draco smiled, beautiful and vulnerable and open and bitter- he always got bitter when he was this vulnerable, like he didn’t want to need to be vulnerable at all, and he almost never showed it to Harry. Never this much. Never like this. Never while he was saying, “I can’t promise this will hurt less.”
Draco’s smile softened a little, sharpened a little. Cautious and challenging. “Trusting me.”
“I just want someone to get it.” In that moment, Harry’s voice sounded more honest than it had sounded, even to him, in years. Years he’d been saying he was fine and years he hadn’t meant it. Because of this.
Because he hadn’t had anyone to be honest with. Or to remind him he might- that he didn’t have to be fine. “I know,” Draco said, and when he did Harry could hear his honesty reflected back. More open than Draco had ever been with him ever.
And Draco hadn’t lied in weeks.
Draco’s lips were softer than Harry expected them to be. They pressed his with gentle insistence, nothing like the falling-forward of Harry seeking Draco’s lips this first time. Draco’s breath was warm, a hint of peppermint snaking into Harry’s mouth, ghosting across his tongue. The kiss was tentative, on both sides, because for all Harry had felt he needed it, he didn’t want to scare Draco.
When Draco pulled back he was breathless. Harry was breathless. Too little breath for a kiss like that.
“Stop hiding,” Draco said.
“I’m not,” Harry said, and kissed him again.
“You are,” Draco said, pulling back a second time. “You’ve been hiding for months. You’ve been looking at me this whole time, seeing more than I wanted, telling me I’m beautiful-” because this was a thing they did, Harry couldn’t stop after the first time and Draco’s light responses never gave him a reason to- Harry kissed him again- Draco broke it off again to finish, “Telling me I’m beautiful and never proving you mean it.”
“I’m proving it now.”
“No you’re not,” Draco said, and turned his face away. “You’re trying to convince yourself you’re not broken.”
Harry froze, resisting the urge to fall back a step because he couldn’t gain this much ground just to lose it to Malfoy saying the right thing again.
Draco didn’t turn back to him, but he had to feel Harry’s tension. He smiled. Too bitter. “Am I wrong?”
Harry laughed. Draco’s eyes snapped back to him. “It was perfect.”
“What was?” Harry thought he could see panic, but Draco was doing that closed-off thing again.
“You should have stopped after you said about me being broken.”
“I didn’t say that.” Draco’s eyes widened. “I didn’t say-”
“Sorry. Trying to convince myself I’m not broken.” When Draco didn’t reply, Harry continued, “It would have been perfect if you’d left it like that. But you gave yourself away.”
“I don’t-” Draco started, but Harry was leaning in again, and Draco closed his eyes before their lips met.
Harry kissed Draco like he meant it. Pressed his body into Draco’s as he did. The kiss was just heat and want and need. There was nothing else there. No hesitation in the way Harry tasted every inch of Draco’s mouth. No hesitation in the way Draco’s hands slid up his back like he was trying to get closer, even though they were as close as they could get with jackets and shirts and skin between them.
Harry had found a new place to bury himself, a person to lose himself in, and the exhilaration of it was so overwhelming he didn’t know what to do with it. He didn’t know where to put all of this. All he could do was pour it into Draco, say ‘I want to be this, I want to do this, I want to get lost’ and take everything Draco was giving back to replace it. Because Draco was giving something to him, too, pouring ‘I get it, I get it, I know, I know’ into Harry and nothing had ever felt as good as that.
Draco made him certain that nothing else could.
“We should stop.”
“No, I meant… we’re in the entrance hall.” Then Harry laughed because he didn’t care.
Draco laughed, too. “Oh.”
They stood getting their breath back for a minute before Harry said, “That was-”
“Yeah.” Draco laughed again and ran a hand through his hair. He had to pull one of his arms off of Harry for a second and the place where it was felt freezing. He put it back again, though, so it was alright.
“D’you think we could do that again?”
“Absolutely,” and Draco was pulling him into a kiss before he’d finished the word.
For a while they just stood there, clinging to each other, a solid point of heat in the emptiness of the entrance hall. Eventually it started to make him dizzy, so Harry jerked back a little and Draco got the hint and pulled his tongue out of Harry’s mouth.
Then he looked at Harry like he was checking for injuries.
“Stop lying to me.”
“Haven’t in months. I can’t anymore. Not to you.”
Harry liked the blank honesty in Draco’s voice so much he couldn’t think of a response. “That was-” Harry tried, but couldn’t finish.
“There aren’t words.”
“There have to be some,” Harry countered.
“Maybe, but you’re not going to like them.”
“Oh, try me,” Harry said. Draco’s hands were still pressed into his back and Harry was still gripping his waist and neither of them was going to move away and that was enough. Enough wanting to be close for them to keep doing it.
“I love you.”
Harry froze again. It was over quicker, though, because Draco was keeping him warm. “No you don’t.”
“Those are the words,” Draco said softly.
“But you don’t mean them.”
“Don’t know if I mean them. Don’t know what else to call this.”
“The start of something. It’s the start of something, it isn’t… Hang on,” said Harry. He kissed Draco again. Then, after pulling back, “Oh. Shit. That’s it, isn’t it. That’s the only way to explain-” Harry cut off and tried to get closer. He didn’t know how else to explain it but the words, and Harry was going to need a minute for those.
“We’ve known each other three months.”
“Three months is a long time.”
“Ten years is a long time,” Harry said slowly.
“You didn’t change enough for me not to remember you.”
Draco smiled. “Neither did you.”
“I felt like I knew you the whole time.” Harry was getting closer, approaching it as Draco buried his face in Harry’s neck and started placing light kisses there.
Between kisses, “Mmm.”
“I’ve wanted to kiss you since I saw you open the door.”
Draco moved up to kiss him in response. It was slow and longing and almost hysterical. Like Draco’s laughing reply a second later, “Why do you think it was so hard to respond to your compliments?”
Harry laughed with him. It was nice, laughing with Draco. He felt like he could do it forever now that they’d agreed it would be better to do this than not to do it. Because being this close was worth it if Draco was willing to let him. “I love you. Or I’m starting to, if that’s an idiotic exaggeration and falling in love was what you meant when you said it.”
“Oh, good. He’s decided,” Draco said, tilting his head back so Harry’s kiss landed on his neck instead of his lips.
Harry asked the question against Draco’s skin. “Did you mean it that way?”
Draco’s hands slid up, off, landed on either side of Harry’s face and repositioned them so his eyes were inches from Harry and gray and staring and letting him all the way in. “That I’m falling in love with you? Of course I meant it.”
The stairs were littered with clothes.
Harry picked them up as he went down for snacks. Once he got to the bottom he vanished them to his room and hoped they landed on Draco’s head, because it’d been his idea to start stripping as soon as possible.
“I’m taking off for a week,” Draco announced as Harry came back in. He was sprawled on his stomach, head in his hands, completely naked on top of Harry’s disheveled blankets.
“How often do you do this?”
Draco looked suspicious at that. “Why?”
Harry stopped short of the bed. “Answer or you don’t get snacks.”
“Harry,” he whined.
“The house elves weren’t surprised,” Harry said rather tersely.
Draco’s face fell. “Oh. That.”
“They don’t get surprised. They’re professionals.” Draco pushed himself up with one arm, other one reaching for the tray.
Harry lifted it out of reach. “Draco.”
“I used to bang lots of randoms in my younger days. It was very scandalous of me and quite tragic, exemplary of my failure to cope with the hard truths of the universe. Please give me a scone I’m fucking starving.”
“But you haven’t-”
“Six months, Harry. Your sentence of celibacy and then some. I got too busy, and I was getting tired of one-offs.”
Harry set down the tray and flung away his borrowed robe before sitting on the bed next to Draco. “Doesn’t feel like there’s a point if you know you’re going to break up in two dates, anyway.”
“Exactly,” Draco said around a scone. “It was mildly inconvenient that it took you so long to realize this could be more.”
Harry nudged Draco’s shoulder, scattering crumbs on the blankets. “You could’ve made a move.”
“Risking the rejection of my live-in confidant and unofficial assistant in the process? No, thanks. I should get you on the payroll, though. So no one can accuse me of trading expertise for sex.”
“So I don’t move from one unofficial job to another, you mean?”
Draco dropped his voice to reply, “Granted you don’t want to oust whatever-his-name-is as Junior Minister.”
Harry took a thoughtful bite of a scone. A second of being stared at later, “I’m still fucked up, though. Not yet recovered from the Ministry’s exploitation.”
“That’s fine.” Draco came to a hard stop on that line of questioning and started another. Merlin, he could read Harry. “How much longer d’you think you’ll be stuck here?”
“Because it’s such an inconvenience for you now.”
Draco leaned down to kiss his hip, sending a shudder through Harry that made Draco smirk. “I meant how much longer before you can march into the Ministry and demand a year’s worth of late paychecks.”
“If they owe me, it’s definitely for longer than a year. But I see your point. Can’t hole up in your house forever.”
“No. Unfortunately not.”
“I have a house,” Harry said, thinking of Draco lolling naked in his bed at Grimmauld Place. “I should do more to restore it.”
“The old Black place?”
“Yeah. I haven’t done enough. I was too busy pretending not to be employed.” Harry fell back, splaying his arms out to either side of him. One landed across the back of Draco’s calves; he didn’t seem to mind.
“I do have a bit of free time,” Draco said, contemplative. “I suppose if I can be promised a decent shag-”
“I thought you didn’t want to incriminate yourself that way.”
Draco shrugged. He had to twist (probably uncomfortably) to look at Harry. “Who would know? And why are you all the way over there?”
Harry heaved a sigh but repositioned himself to stretch out next to Draco. He opted to rest his head on folded arms rather than expend the necessary effort to prop himself up. “Better?”
Draco leaned down to kiss the tip of his nose. “Much.”
“Hang on, is that your third scone?”
“This relationship is going to die very young if you care about-”
“No, I mean- what time is it? Isn’t there a meal planned for the near future?”
“Oh.” Draco glanced over his shoulder to check the bedside clock. “It’s six thirty-four.”
Harry blinked. “What time did you get home?”
“Three? Two thirty? I don’t really remember. I think I blacked out during the first- where on earth are you going?”
Harry was halfway to the bathroom. “To shower.” When Draco said nothing, Harry turned back to him. “You said to never be late.”
Draco goggled at him. “Do you mean to tell me you’re actually a good boyfriend?”
Harry rolled his eyes and went to turn on the water.
“I mean, I guess it was sort of implied in some of the things you’ve said the past few months,” Draco’s voice drifted through the open door, “but it’s surprisingly different seeing it in practice.”
“Are you going to rely on wandless post-orgasm spellwork, or are you going to join me?”
Draco’s next words came from inside the bathroom. “See? That was a bit rude, but your insistence on respecting the schedule of the household is lovely.”
Harry pulled the curtain partway open to stare at him. “What, past boyfriends were always fashionably late?”
“Not all of them.” Draco stepped into the shower with him. “None of them’s ever lived with me, though.”
The shower took longer than Harry’d planned. They managed to make it down to dinner on time, though.
“Ooh, there’s bread,” Draco said delightedly, snagging a roll the second he sat down.
Harry stared. “You just ate three scones.”
Draco smiled. “Topping makes me hungry.”
Harry felt himself go red. “You- you can’t just- what if-”
“Relax, Potter. I can usually sense people coming from within the house. She isn’t even home yet.”
“Not home… Draco, she’s never been late.”
“Not since you’ve been here. There’s a fifteen-minute window for running into unexpected friends on the way out of Diagon or having to beat back reporters with nothing better to do.”
Harry sat. Draco ate his roll to increasingly uncomfortable silence.
Twenty minutes passed.
Draco stood. “I’m going to ask security if she said when she’d be back,” he said too brightly.
Before Draco could make it to the door, Harry was across the room and holding him back with a hand on his arm. Harry opened his mouth to say ‘security might have been compromised,’ but Draco’d thrown a hand up to cover Harry’s mouth.
“It’s also possible she sent an owl while I was distracted earlier.”
Shit, Harry thought. Draco was right. Security being compromised didn’t begin to cover the scope of the problem; they’d been inside all the extra wards around Harry’s room, but none of the alarms had been tripped. If they had been lured out of safety and into a trap, the person who’d set it would have to have already deactivated the layers and layers of wards on the Manor.
Which meant they were probably posing as security, unless they’d managed to take down two trained professionals using force alone, which would have been impossible unless they’d had the same amount of training.
Draco had seen the recognition in Harry’s eyes and dropped his hand. He’d also wriggled free of Harry’s grasp and intertwined their fingers instead.
Harry made his voice light. “I don’t think I’ll feel much more comfortable with the suggestive comments in front of the house elves than I did when I thought your mother was about to burst into the room.”
“Please,” Draco’s tone matched Harry’s, but he was squeezing Harry’s hand, then releasing it, drawing his wand. “Saying ‘distracted’ with a bit of extra emphasis is nowhere near as bad as announcing recent activities to an obviously empty dining room.”
“Whatever. But if you go there again I might have to…” Harry trailed off. A pulse of magic was threading through the air, something faint but recognizable.
Draco’s expression conveyed recognition.
The two of them began to creep down the silent corridor, feeling the strength of the unfamiliar spell increase as they drew closer to security. Halfway down the hall, Draco stopped.
He raised his eyebrows at Harry, then glanced at the ceiling.
Harry shook his head. No. Absolutely not. Harry was absolutely not leaving Draco to deal with whatever this was alone-
Draco leaned in. Harry’s breath caught in confusion; for a second he thought Draco was going to kiss him. But then Draco said, “I’m not losing you now,” and his grip on Harry’s hand got so hard it hurt.
Harry gasped and let go. “Come with me,” he mouthed, pleading.
Draco shook his head. “My mother. I wonder where she’s got to so late, I… I have to check on her.”
Their eyes were locked. Let me come with you, then, Harry’s said.
Not a chance, Draco’s eyes replied.
Harry felt himself collapse inside, his will giving way under the intensity of Draco’s stare. Of course he’d go upstairs. Of course he would.
Cautiously, like he was afraid of breaking something, Harry nodded once and started backing down the corridor.
Draco flashed him a brilliant smile, permission, and Harry turned. It hurt. It hurt so much he could have screamed, turning away from Draco.
Harry felt tense and raw as he took each disbelieving step. He was listening for anything, sensing for anything, tracking Draco’s damned magical signature as they got farther apart, and it took everything left in him to keep walking forward. Walking away from-
Fuck. Harry didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to do this.
He spun and ran to catch up with Draco.
At Draco’s glare, Harry smiled. “I’m not losing you, either.”
There was nothing else, no strategy or method or plan they could have used. Draco had to find his mother, and Harry had to protect Draco; they were going to storm the doors of security like reckless idiotic Gryffindors.
They were going in together or not at all.
They stormed the doors like reckless idiotic Gryffindors.
“Shit,” Draco breathed the moment they were inside. The room was empty, security radios smashed, signs maybe of struggle but none of blood. The spell had been cast some time ago.
“We have to get a message to Kingsley,” Harry said, automatically. “We have to tell him that-” just then, a patronus interrupted him.
Kingsley’s patronus. Kingsley’s voice. “Potter. Narcissa Malfoy has been kidnapped. Get outside the wards and apparate to a safe location.”
Draco wasn’t moving. He wasn’t making sound. Draco was numb.
“Draco,” Harry said, gripping his shoulder, “we have to go.”
Everything was so clear. Clear clear clear like glass. Harry had a place to bury himself that wasn’t the dirt anymore and he knew what he had to do- he just had to help Draco- he just had to help Draco.
“Draco,” Harry said again.
Draco glanced up with devastated eyes.
“I know. We have to go. We have to go to get her back, alright?”
“I- I should have-”
“Draco.” Harry gripped both of his shoulders. “Can you help me get through the wards so we can go?” There was no time for Harry to find the hole if the wards weren’t completely destroyed.
“Maybe. But I have to help. I- I need to know where we’re-”
“Ron and Hermione’s flat. Can you let me take us there from here?”
“I think so. If it’s a magic place, I should…”
“Okay.” Harry pulled Draco in, closely. “Just follow me there, alright?”
Draco tightened his arms around Harry’s waist. “Ready.”
Harry took them.
Ron and Hermione were arguing in the living room and went silent when they appeared. Harry couldn’t see Ron; he was behind him; but over Draco’s shoulder he could see Hermione, wide eyes turning understanding in an instant. “Is it safe here?” Harry asked steadily.
Hermione nodded mutely. Then, turning to Ron, “We’ve got to tell the minister we have them.”
Harry heard both of them leave the room.
Draco pulled back a little, coiled. “We need to get to her.”
“I know.” Harry relaxed his arms, letting Draco know he could pull away if he wanted.
He didn’t want. “We need to get her.”
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice was tentative. She stood in the doorway.
Harry looked up.
“The minister wants to see you. Both of you.”
Harry gave a small nod, eased his arms away from Draco until he just had his hands. “Do you need a minute?”
Harry led him to the Floo. He glanced at Hermione. “Thank you.”
“Of course. Anything.”
As Harry and Draco stepped out of the living room and into Kingsley’s office, Harry felt a wrenching that had nothing to do with fire travel and everything to do with how much Ron and Hermione loved him.
“Potter. Malfoy. Good to see you both. Wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Where is she?” Draco forewent the formalities of speaking to the minister.
Kingsley didn’t seem to mind just then. “Being held hostage at enemy headquarters. Apparently they saw her on the street and decided it was an opportunity.”
“What’s the deal? Me for her?” Harry asked, feeling Draco’s grip on his hand tighten.
“I take it you’re going to convince me I need to stay safe again?” Harry held Kingsley’s gaze.
“I take it you’re going to try to rush in like you always do?”
“I-” confusion took over. Harry turned to Draco.
“Don’t you fucking dare. The minister’s going to help us get her out of this, isn’t he?” Draco’s eyes didn’t move from Kingsley.
Harry knew that tone. “Alright, then. Yeah, I’m rushing in like I always do. Point me in the right direction.”
Though Draco opened his mouth to protest, Kingsley beat him to it. “You’re under orders from the Minister of Magic to stay where you are.”
“I don’t work for you anymore.”
“You never did. You only worked for-”
“My country? The magical population? Right. Great. Tell me where she is.”
Kingsley went from shocked to livid to proud (yes, Harry thought, got him) to closed off in a split second. “You’re not leaving my office, Potter.”
“You would rip a hole in Ministry security-”
“No. But I know someone who won’t stop me.” Harry squeezed Draco’s hand once, stepped back, and went through the fire again.
The second of Floo travel was the most alone he’d been in months.
“What the fuck are you doing back here?” Ron sounded about as angry as Kingsley had been.
“Explain in a second. Close the Floo.”
Ron let out a frustrated sigh and closed the Floo. “Right. So, you’ve escaped the protective custody of the Minister of Magic-”
“I didn’t agree. To protective custody. Not this time.”
Ron stared at him for a long moment. Then, voice loud and strong and sounding resigned, “Harry’s back.”
Hermione was there in a flash. “What are you doing here?”
“Going to save Narcissa Malfoy. One last act of repayment before I retire properly.”
Hermione’s eyes darted to Ron and back to Harry. “You’re back.”
Harry knew from the way she said it she didn’t mean he was back in her flat. It was something more along the lines of ‘you’ve finally stopped digging your own grave.’ “Don’t get too excited. I’ve got here doing something stupid. Can I apparate from here?”
“You can always apparate in and out, mate, you know that.”
Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. “Even today?”
Realization smashed into Harry. “You knew.”
“You knew I was going to- you knew I-”
“Knew you’d get better?” Hermione asked gently.
“Knew I’d start to,” Harry corrected. Because if they didn’t trust him completely they wouldn’t have let him out, wouldn’t have let him go. “You fucking- You know I fucking love the both of you, right?”
Ron cracked a smile. “Yeah.”
“Where is she?” Harry knew Ron would know.
“Same place they were camping out when they threatened you. Haven’t moved. You know how to get there?”
But before Ron could finish the sentence, Harry was apparating.
“It’s true. He could have fucking asked for help, I’m trained, after all, I would have come with him if I knew he was just going to disapparate right-”
“Ron,” Hermione said more gently.
Harry opened his eyes to a packed hospital room. “They let all of you in?”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, Potter, the occupants of this room are all famous- or infamous, as it were-” Draco cut off. He couldn’t keep it up. He was holding Harry’s hand, Narcissa hovering behind him. Ron and Hermione stood at the other side of the bed, both facing Harry, then.
“Good you’re awake,” Hermione said, halfway between relieved and angry.
“You nearly gave us all a heart attack. You could have died, you got hurt badly enough as it is, and- fine,” Ron sighed, and slid past Hermione to hug him. “But you’re a right prat, you know that?”
“Yeah,” Harry said.
Ron rolled his eyes at Draco as he pulled back; Draco still had Harry’s hand. “You think you could wait until Harry’s officially told us?”
Before Draco could reply, Hermione was between them, hugging Harry herself. “You’re so stupid.”
“Yes, stupid,” Draco agreed. “And if you ever do that again, I’m going to kill you, alright?” He moved in to take Hermione’s place.
“Yeah,” Harry breathed in the smell that had become familiar. “Alright.”
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice had a touch of trepidation in it, added to the anger and relief.
“Yeah?” he asked as Draco obligingly moved back.
“What exactly did you do?”
Harry laughed. “What, they broke the rules to let you in here, but they didn’t tell you how-?”
“No,” Draco said, voice prickling, “they didn’t.”
Harry exhaled. “Oh. Well. Suppose Kingsley respected my dramatic storm-off too much to let it get to the papers, didn’t he?”
Harry spared only a few seconds’ glance at Ron and Hermione (who by now were used to his recklessness) and gave the rest of his gaze to Draco. “I sort of caused a panic at the enemy base.”
Draco’s words were like ice. “Caused a panic?”
“The details aren’t really that imp-”
The hint of ‘I should have fucking known’ was barely in Draco’s expression, but it was enough for Harry to see it. “What did you do?”
Harry shut his mouth.
“Was it illegal?” Hermione asked, more shocked than she really should have been.
“Maybe a… maybe a bit.”
“Yeah. A bit,” Ron agreed. He had shown up with a team of aurors soon after Harry had gone in, making him (and possibly Narcissa) the only occupant of the room who already knew.
“Harry! You can’t just- I mean- that was a serious lapse of judgment, no matter what you did, and-”
“May I interrupt?” Kingsley’s voice drifted rather ominously ahead of him into the room.
Harry swallowed audibly.
He came to stand at the foot of Harry’s bed, the only free space left in the room. “I should send you to prison.”
Harry sighed. “Please don’t. Probably illegal, anyway, yeah?”
“Because you’re you?”
“No. Other reasons, probably. Haven’t figured them out yet. But they definitely mean I shouldn’t be working for you.”
Kingsley sighed, not breaking eye contact. “Can we have the room?”
“No,” Draco said. Everyone else stayed rooted to their places.
“Right. What do you mean, then, Potter?”
“I mean I should’ve gone in the loony bin years ago.”
Draco tightened his hand. “Don’t-”
“I would have put it a bit more delicately, but, well,” Kingsley interrupted.
“Right. Yeah. But, well, so I’m not arrested?”
Kingsley rubbed his eyes for a second, took a look around the room, and said, “Not this time,” and went.
Into the glaring silence, Draco said, “I believe you promised that was your last act as figurehead of the wizarding world, correct?”
“Right. I’m hoping Ron and Hermione will forgive me.”
“What about me?”
“You’ll take time,” Harry said, smiling again.
“Do you really mean it?” Hermione asked. “About not doing anything that stupid again?”
“Yes. I’ll stick to boring things from now on, mostly.”
Ron sighed a long-suffering sigh. “You know we’re going to hold you to it?”
Ron, not looking entirely convinced, turned to go, “See you in a bit, then.”
“’Course. Love you.”
“I love you, mate.”
“Love you, too,” Hermione said, closing the door behind them.
Narcissa stepped up to place a hand on top of Harry and Draco’s intertwined ones. “Thank you. If you ever do anything like that to my son again-”
“Yep, got it, you’ll kill me yourself.”
Narcissa left as well, barely suppressing a smile.
The sound of the door shutting came with Draco letting out his breath. “I haven’t made a mistake, have I?”
Harry rolled to face him, ignoring the pain that shot up his left side at the movement. “How do you mean?”
"Am I right about you being as ridiculously committed to this as I am?"
"What, this?" Harry raised his hand a little; Draco nodded. "Oh. No. I mean, of course I am. As ridiculously committed as you are."
Draco dropped his head onto the edge of the mattress. "Good. I meant it about killing you, though."
"Do you? Because if you do something even a fraction as dangerous as-"
He turned to face Harry and raised his eyebrows.
Harry smiled, all soft. "I know."
They didn't talk for a while after that.
Harry Potter's reappearance at the fringes of the wizarding world did not go unnoticed by the press. Still, he and Draco managed to keep their relationship quiet a whole three weeks before the rumors started.
That was about when Harry decided it was time to start seeing someone.
Draco's voice was cautious, uncertain, when he said, “You said you’d never give it up. Your mind. Your privacy.”
"I do it all the time for everybody else. Or did, in some ways. What's it matter if one more person knows a bit more than the rest?" Harry had come to realize that he had already been giving something up, already been sacrificing his mind a little every time Kingsley called and Harry answered, 'Where do you need me?' There was something nice about it, about getting the help he needed (Hermione) or finally putting his foot down (Ron) or doing something for himself instead of the rest of the magical population (Draco).
Terrifying. Because it meant he was going to have to confront a whole load of things about himself that he didn't know if he was ready to think about, yet, even after years, and because the hole he was digging seemed much closer to collapsing the more he thought about it. But Harry had another person to help him out, now, and Draco didn't seem to mind it so much, so he supposed it was alright.
And he didn't dig so much anymore. Not with Draco around.
It was stupid, Harry thought, so, so stupid that he'd decided to wake up to everything again in loving someone else. You didn't do that, he knew, or people didn't. You were supposed to be present in your own head- or- well- Harry'd been too present, he supposed, spending too much time there, but that didn't mean he was alright with himself, and it didn't mean Draco was filling some void for him, it just- things seemed to happen at once, sometimes. Like Harry deciding he'd rather be mostly sane, after all. At the same time as his finding Draco.
Ron was frustrated for about a month on principle, in a way he claimed was entirely to do with Harry pulling away from him and Hermione right before having a massive revelation and had nothing to do with the fact Harry had fallen in love with Draco without giving either of them more than subtle hints as it was happening. Also Ron was probably angry Harry had upstaged his department, not because he was proud, but because Harry always had to go out of his way to be really really stupidly Gryffindorishly brave to do it, and Ron may be more okay with the whole illegal thing than Hermione, but he worked in Magical Law Enforcement, for Merlin's sake. And Harry didn't. And had never. Or would never again, if you counted high-risk political missions as DMLE work.
“Come live with me,” Draco said after throwing a Prophet into the fire. Harry was at the Manor with him for dinner, because he went to dinner there a lot, still, and they were in the sitting room drinking coffee.
Draco made a noise.
“I mean it. I’ve got to learn how to be not a recluse or a Ministry slave.”
“I thought you learned how not to be a recluse when you became a Ministry slave?”
Harry shook his head. “I had bad weeks. Have bad weeks.” He frowned.
“You’re not going to scare me away that easily, you know.”
“Really,” Draco insisted. “You’re too noble for your own good, and far too good for me, and I-”
“Me, too good for you?” Harry interrupted. “Please.”
“Well,” and Draco was smiling, then, “it isn’t as if you haven’t put your life at risk multiple times for-”
“And now I’m not. So the nobility goes right out the window. You, on the other hand, are the head of a charitable organization and a saint besides-”
Draco’s expression turned soft and far away. “No. That’s you, remember?”
“Saint Potter,” Harry said slowly, an echo from the years. “I don’t think you meant it the same way, though.”
Draco stepped closer, slipped a hand up the back of Harry’s jumper. “Didn’t I?”
“No. Definitely not.”
After a long kiss, Draco said, “Stay.”
Draco smiled and dropped everything but Harry’s hand. “My mother will be overjoyed.”
Harry thought for a second, then frowned. “Why don’t you ever come to mine?”
“Is that an invitation?”
Harry laughed. “Not for tomorrow, Merlin, no, but… maybe when I fix the dining room wallpaper.” Harry had learned that pouring love into his house was far more rewarding than pouring it into an unforgiving Ministry. Grimmauld Place gave little things back, secrets, and memories, things he wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t been spending so much time there. “And why are you always asking me to move here?”
“It’s bigger and farther from London. But I guess you don’t need that now. Not to mention I’ve been to yours approximately twice-”
“It had to be three- you know what, it doesn’t matter. Come whenever you like. I’m there most of the time, anyway.” The house wasn’t exactly in the best shape yet, but Harry had learned months ago that wasn’t something Draco particularly cared about.
“I’m going to take you up on that, you know.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“Mmm. Now go. Sleep.”
“See you tomorrow?”
“Seven o’clock,” Draco said.
Harry squeezed his hand and stepped into the fire. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, you hopeless romantic.”
“I’m the hopeless-?” Harry began to protest, but the rest of his words were lost in the whirl of the flames.
He’d have to remind Draco of their first date at dinner the next day.
“Damnit!” Harry dropped the paint roller he was holding only to have it splash in the tray and splatter him with deep blue. He’d already kicked the paint can and was pretty sure that was blood seeping through his sock- break time.
Harry limped to the bathroom to assess the damage. His clothes were drenched in paint already; he did a quick drying spell and shot a first aid one at his foot. It wasn’t the first minor injury he’d sustained fixing up his house, and it probably wasn’t going to be the last. At least he was an expert at mending Draco’s papercuts now.
A crack and a very loud ‘fuck’ came from the other room.
“Oh, hello,” Harry said.
Draco was standing with his foot in the paint tray. “So kind of you to warn me, love.”
“You know I’m doing the house. And which room I’m on. It probably would’ve been better if-”
“Yes, I know, don’t apparate directly into rooms with open paint trays.”
Harry laughed and vanished the paint. There hadn’t been much left in the tray anyway. Better that than ruin Draco’s two-year-old shoes. “Are you ever going to get new ones?”
“What?” Draco looked confused as he stepped out of the empty paint tray, then followed Harry’s gaze. “Oh. Why would I, these are fine?”
“Because they’ve been through sixteen reparos and multiple trips to your fancy shoe repair person, and when I borrowed them to go into the garden yesterday I could feel the grass through the soles.”
“That was on purpose. Charms, you know?”
“Sure,” Harry laughed, leaning in to peck Draco on the cheek. “How was work?”
“Oh, fine. We managed to save half a block from pureblood overdevelopment.”
“Half a block more than we had yesterday.”
“Right. Is the paint on you wet, or can I-”
Harry collapsed into Draco’s arms. “Dry.”
“Glad to hear it,” Draco murmured into Harry’s shoulder.
“We’re going out today, remember?”
“I know, but if we don’t they’re going to say we wasted our twenties.”
“But we haven’t wasted our twenties! We’re saving the world just as much as your fellow DA members are, and that doesn’t count? We’re only really living if we get pissed every other weekend?”
“No,” Harry said, stepping back, “and we don’t get pissed that often. I don’t even think you were tipsy last time.”
“That cider was crap,” Draco insisted. “Are we at least going somewhere nicer this time?”
“Depends on what you mean by ‘nicer.’ Fancier décor or better alcohol?”
“Yes, I know, you’re not a stuck-up brat and you wish people appreciated the Manor for its history more, there will be better alcohol, I promise.”
“I’m only having one drink.”
“I know. So it’s got to be good, right?”
“Mmm. What about you?”
Harry shook his head. “Don’t feel like it. Not since the muggle antidepressants.”
“Then why are we going out at all?”
“To get you good cider and socialize. For a bit.”
“I don’t care about either of those things.”
“I know. But I do.”
“About me drinking cider or socializing?” Draco asked.
Harry nudged him and made for the door. “Come on. We don’t want to be late.” When he’d made it to the landing, he added, “And both of us need to socialize. Not just you.”
“I know. But I still think you should invite them over to help you paint.”
“They haven’t got time.”
“They would if they made time.”
“They are. Just not for painting. Because I don’t have a job so it doesn’t make sense for me to ask them for help.” Harry threw his paint-covered clothes into their pile on the chair in their bedroom and started searching for clean ones.
“I could help, if you wanted.”
“You’re busy saving the world.”
“But I live here.”
Draco’s tone made Harry turn. “You want to help me tile the bathroom next Saturday?”
“That’s not for another week.”
“You’ve got your fundraiser thing tomorrow. Going to start a riot with me on your arm.”
Draco’s expression changed from the wanting to help with the house one to the not wanting Harry to get jumped one. “You don’t have to go.”
“I want to go. I’ll make people feel guilty so they help muggleborns find housing outside the stupid Ministry initiatives. And preserve historical sites and pass on wizarding legacy and everything.”
“They’re going to accuse me of brainwashing you.”
“Everyone has. Dumbledore, Kingsley, the Order. Only fair you have your turn.” Harry pulled on a shirt and scanned the floor for his shoes. “And, anyway, you’re doing more to break the unhealthy pureblood continuum than the Ministry. So it’s not brainwashing, just… philanthropy.”
Draco sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Alright. But I won’t answer questions for you unless you really don’t want to, okay? We’re barely keeping the owls away as it is.”
Harry grabbed his jacket. “Ready?”
Draco nodded, and grabbed his hand, and they went together down the stairs and into the cool London air, and Harry didn’t let go until they were home again.
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