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Blood and Fire

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"Oi! Harry!" Charlie called from the path back to the mess hall.

Harry sighed, hefting another bale of fireproof straw onto his shoulder and carrying it to the birthing barn. He didn't bother replying to Charlie's ovation, rather assuming he'd be followed regardless.

He tossed the straw into the paddock and then pulled a glove loose with his teeth, tugging it and the other off and tucking them into his back pocket. He turned to watch Charlie's advance, planting his hands on his hips. A trickle of sweat ran down the middle of his back.

"I thought you were gone already. Wasn't your Portkey for three o'clock?"

Harry dug the toe of his boot into the ground and shrugged. "Thought Marlow could use more help getting Beatrice ready to lay her eggs."

"He's been here three years."

Harry gave another shrug.

Charlie sighed. "Look. My little sister's getting married, alright? Of course I don't want to lose my best hand for hatchling season, but..." His large, squarish palm came down on Harry's shoulder, his fingers squeezing. "She needs a decent best man."

"I don't know what good she thinks I'm going to do. It's not like I know how to plan a wedding." Harry felt the familiar churning in his gut at the very idea of going back. But he'd made his excuses for days now, and it was time. He'd agreed to this weeks ago. There wasn't any backing out. It was Gin.

It was Gin and it was England and it was the city and his friends and the noise and all the things he'd left. It was everything his life had been twelve years ago and nothing it was now.

Harry peered into Charlie's kind eyes, the freckles at his temples getting lost in the creases as he smiled. "You won't let Greta set fire to the east woods again, will you?"

Charlie snorted. "Only if I want to punish Marlow with having to put it out."

Harry took a deep breath.

Charlie patted his shoulder. "Get going before I boot you off the reserve myself, alright?"

Harry gave him a grim smile. "See you in six weeks."

Something flitted over Charlie's expression at that, something Harry wasn't sure he could translate. It looked a bit sad but resolute. "Nah," Charlie said, "I'll see you at the wedding first."

"That's right." Harry felt his shoulders loosen somewhat. Charlie would be at the wedding. It'd be nice to have him there. Charlie had, after all, become one of his closest friends in the years Harry had been in Romania. It seemed so lopsided — to be going back to a place he'd once called home, to a place that might always, even involuntarily, be his home... a place where the best friends of his life lived. And yet all Harry wanted to do was curl up in his bunk and start tomorrow just like he'd started today.

He did. And he didn't.

But he really didn't have much of a choice now.

"Go on. Get down to the village while the Portkey office is still open."

Harry gave Charlie a nod. He turned and surveyed the paddock once more. There was plenty of straw, plenty of water, and Marlow wasn't such a crap wizard that he couldn't cast an Aguamenti, just in case the eggs came out smoldering.

"See you, Charlie." Harry made his legs take him from the huge unmeltable metal barn and out into the calm of the sunset. He could hear Parvati shouting in the distance, herding the yearlings back for feeding.

Harry drew his wand and Summoned his bag, catching it and throwing it over a shoulder mid-stride. He gazed at the horizon, the brown-black trees just starting to form new buds of green, the orange blaze of sun flinging pinks into the deep blue above. There was no sky like this one, uninterrupted by the vertical thrust of buildings or the sprawl of bridges.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and Apparated into town.

*

Harry didn't do more his first night back in London than fall face first into his hotel bed and sleep till dawn.

He wasn't supposed to meet with Ginny until the evening, and he hadn't made plans with Hermione and Ron until the next day. It was weird, this trepidation he'd felt. He was skittish like a dragon new to the reserve: injured, wary, and dangerous. Except he wasn't dangerous. And his injuries weren't ones you could exactly see. He was only wary. More than he knew he should have been. But it couldn't be helped. It had simply been too long for him to be able to predict what his being back would feel like. Or what it might be like for those he'd left behind.

He'd missed the last two... no, actually, three Burrow Christmases. It hadn't seemed like it had been that long. But then again, work kept him busy, his mind occupied. He was often too tired at the end of any given day to even think two thoughts after his head hit the pillow. Then it began all over again the next day.

But even when he'd made himself visit for the holidays, it had always only been the Burrow. Just Ron and Hermione, Teddy when he wasn't at his Gran's, and the Weasleys. He hadn't ever had to see Neville or Luna or... anyone else. Not that Neville or Luna were any cause for anxiety, of course. He knew that logically. But Harry had still found himself reluctant to venture into anything that looked like his life before. He was careful to avoid any such encounters and quick to escape back home.

And this... This was something altogether different than a three-day Christmas visit. And as thoughtfully as he'd packed his bag, Harry still couldn't feel anything other than unprepared.

He took breakfast at a pub down the street from his hotel and then, before he could talk himself out of it, he Apparated to Diagon Alley, half afraid he'd land on the roof of Buckingham Palace he was so out of practice.

Harry spent most of the day ducking in and out of shops—wandering between aisles of cauldrons, books, brooms, robes—and unable to determine if it felt like it had been a hundred years since he'd returned or only a smattering of seconds.

He bought a book at Flourish and Blotts and took it back to his hotel, reading until it was time to dress for going out again.

He was strangely nervous, being that it would only be him and Gin and her fiancée. He tended to feel much more relaxed around dragons than people anymore. He wasn't daft. He realised what a sad notion that would be to some. And sometimes it was to him too. More lately. But it was just the truth of things.

Harry Potter had gone from The Boy Who Lived to The Man Who...

Harry sighed on the doorstep to Ginny's townhouse as he waited for her to answer. He didn't know how to finish that thought. Twelve years and he still didn't really know much of anything beyond how to calm an angry Hungarian Horntail or how to tell the difference not only between a Chinese Fireball and a Peruvian Vipertooth from a kilometer away but to differentiate between individual dragons.

It wasn't really a skill well-suited to London life.

He scratched his neck and looked down at himself, brushing his hands over his burgundy jumper and blue jeans, wondering if he was too casual or just wrong and if maybe he should Apparate back to the hotel to change before anyone answered—

"Oh my God, Harry," Ginny breathed, beaming, as she swung the door open and saw him standing on her welcome mat. She launched into his arms and squeezed him hard, and his hands belatedly closed around her back.

"Hey, Gin."

"Hey yourself." She leaned back, eyes glittering at him.

"You look well," he told her, though she looked more than and he wasn't sure why he'd been so reserved.

She was glowing actually, as she pulled him inside and closed the door behind him, taking his jacket and scarf. She wore a gigantic beige jumper that seemed designed to fall off one shoulder as though by accident. Purple leggings hugged her calves, and her bare feet flaunted purple-painted toenails. Her hair was plaited in a loose braid, and though she wore a pale lipstick, she'd not taken any extra pains with glamours and whatnot. She looked relaxed and happy and at home.

"You look fantastic," she told him, taking his arm and guiding him inside.

"I do?" He probably shouldn't have asked, but she'd startled him. No one on the dragon reserve ever talked about how anyone looked unless it was to take the piss about how exhausted a handler appeared after having been up all night working a double.

Her hand rubbed over his arm. "I mean bloody hell, Harry."

He supposed he had put on a bit more muscle in the last three years, though he'd never been by any means beefy and still wasn't. It was odd to feel like the changes in his body could be anything other than utilitarian, and he thought he might have blushed a little, even though he knew better than to think her appraisal was anything but fondly platonic.

"Darling, Harry's here!" Ginny shouted.

"Harry Potter, wine or whiskey?" Pansy asked with a smile as they rounded a corner into a vast and bright kitchen.

"Hey there, Pansy. Er, whiskey, I guess?"

Ginny took the glass of white wine that Pansy poured for her and kissed her cheek before sipping. He scratched his neck again.

"Merlin, Harry." Ginny's eyes widened seeing the slash along the tendon that he'd forgotten was there. It had healed enough now that it didn't hurt; it only itched sometimes.

"Oh, that. Just an occupational hazard."

"Fuck." Pansy handed him a smoking tumbler.

He nodded his thanks. "Really, it's nothing. I was playing with one of the yearlings and caught the working end of a back claw. They learn to keep them retracted but... Well, it was my fault for roughhousing."

Pansy snorted. "Merlin's sake. Well, come into the living room and have a seat, Potter. Oh, honey, can you get the..." She waved in the direction of the refrigerator.

"Got it," Ginny said, ducking inside and pulling out a tray of hors d'oeuvres.

Harry sat in a plush chair, and Ginny and Pansy shared a sofa, Gin's foot lodging comfortably under her thigh. She grabbed a pickle off the tray of food and munched on it. "Tell us about the dragons, Harry."

He scoffed. "They're dragons. They breathe fire. They're difficult to care for. The end. Tell me about the wedding." He smiled as the pair of them then looked like they'd been simultaneously Lumosed from the inside out as they looked at one another.

Pansy was opening her mouth to speak when their doorbell rang. "Oh, uh..."

"Yes, you'd better..." Ginny said, her eyes a bit wider than seemed natural. Harry felt his insides inexplicably flash cold.

"I'll get that," Pansy said with a trembling little laugh. "Be right back then." She jumped off the couch and clipped away to the front door on her only slightly sensible heels.

"Who else...?" Harry began. "I mean, I thought it was just—"

"Yes, well, you're my best man and all. We only thought it proper to also invite Pansy's." Ginny bit her lip.

"Pansy's," Harry echoed.

But before he could wrap his brain around it, he heard the voices filtering in from the front of the house.

"Sorry I'm late. I got hung up at the—"

Harry had already stood. Which was to say that he suddenly found himself standing. His wand wasn't in his hand, but his palm burned with wanting to draw it. Which was absurd really. It was absurd. It was...

Draco Malfoy stopped in his brisk tracks and stood there across the room, his sentence having died on his lips as his gaze met Harry's. He stared. And Harry couldn't seem not to stare at him as well. He wore a grey Muggle suit without a tie. Or rather, he appeared to have discarded a tie recently. Harry watched his exposed throat move as he swallowed now. After a few moments, Harry blinked.

"I..." Malfoy said. "I didn't..."

"Yes, well, here we are," Pansy said.

Ginny stood from the sofa. "Draco, please do come in." And then in a whisper, "Harry, close your mouth."

He heard her through the low buzzing sound in his skull and managed to obey her instruction.

Malfoy stood at the edge of the room as though he hadn't yet decided if he was actually going to enter. His gaze left Harry's only to sweep down his body once. When his eyes rose and he looked into Harry's again, it was only briefly this time. He cut his glance down then. "Excuse me," he said to the furniture at large before he made for the kitchen, Pansy following him quickly.

"Yes, drinks," she said brightly, flicking her wand and assembling all of their glasses to trail her as she joined Malfoy at the counter. Harry stood there and watched him pour himself a double Firewhiskey, Pansy's head tilted at an intimate angle as she whispered something to him.

"Merlin, Harry, just sit down," Ginny huffed. "Eat something."

Slowly, he lowered himself back into his chair, but he didn't think he could eat even with somebody's wand to his head. It wasn't that he'd actually believed he'd be able to avoid Malfoy for the entire six weeks of his stay. Of course he wouldn't. He'd all but worked out that Malfoy would likely also be in the wedding party. But he hadn't been prepared for this. Not this.

"You didn't tell me he'd be here."

"No."

He lifted his gaze to Ginny's, and she flinched at whatever she saw there.

"From the looks of it, you didn't tell him, either."

Ginny sighed. "Please don't leave."

Harry huffed an unamused laugh. "I'm not leaving." Merlin, where would he go? The closest Portkey office? His cottage at the reserve was the only safe place he could think of at the moment. Nowhere else would be far enough.

His glass floated back into the room, and Harry snatched it out of the air to drink down half its contents. He steeled himself as Pansy and then Malfoy followed.

Pansy took her seat on the sofa again, giving an uncertain little smile to Harry and then sharing a look with Ginny. Malfoy took the only other chair, at a right angle to Harry's own.

"Hello, Potter," he said, not meeting Harry's eyes, which was a bit of a relief.

Harry's gaze moved over the sharp angle of his jaw in near profile and then dropped to the whiskey in his own glass. "Malfoy."

"So," Pansy began, "Harry was just asking about the wedding, so we thought we'd fill him in and such, since he's been..." She stalled out suddenly.

"Gone?" Malfoy ventured. "Simple word, Pans. How much have you had to drink?" He gazed into his own glass for a moment.

"Yes, well, we wanted to ask you as well, Draco," Ginny said. "About the venue. We've, er, had a last minute change of plans there and we were hoping to perhaps use your space in Wales. Would it be available on such short notice?"

Malfoy set his drink aside, reaching into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He crossed an ankle over his knee and then consulted a pad of parchment, swiping up with a finger and scrolling through the ink there. "Looks to be free. I'll quill you in." He snapped his fingers, and a quill appeared in his hand. He began writing on his pad, brow slightly furrowed. "What times?"

Harry watched all of this with mounting feelings of overwhelm. At least part of that was interest, and he fought the desire to snatch the pad from Malfoy to see what else was written in it. But less than the information his device contained, Harry couldn't help but watch his every movement as he sat there, from the graceful swish of his long fingers, to the concentration in his eyes, the lay of his ankle on his knee and how it exposed dark, thin, expensive socks.

"What's in Wales?" Harry asked.

"Draco has some properties, mostly about the city but with others elsewhere," Pansy explained.

He told himself to nod. His brain was firing off signals —— Nod, you idiot. But it just wasn't happening. He glanced across at Ginny, and she was looking at him with concern in her eyes, like she was close to jumping off the sofa to come hold his hand or something. That would be just exactly what he needed, Harry thought with no small amount of sarcasm. He swallowed, his ears buzzing, and took another sip of his drink.

"So, how much of the cost will go to the charity then?" Pansy was asking.

Malfoy made a considering face, the little chin shrug jutting out his bottom lip for but a moment. "Well, normally it would be seventy-five per cent, with twenty-five going to the operating costs, building upkeep, employees for the event... But I'd waive that, so one hundred per cent, I suppose." He took a sip from his glass.

Harry felt superfluous. Not once since he'd first walked in had Malfoy's gaze sought him out when all Harry could seem to do was stare at him. Plus, he had no idea what the three of them were talking about. "Charity?" he asked.

Malfoy cleared his throat, but when he seemed disinclined to answer himself, Pansy jumped in. "Draco runs several charities. If we hold the reception at the Welsh property, the money will go to the war orphans, right Draco?"

"Mm."

"But you can't absorb the rest of the cost. We wouldn't ask you to do that," Ginny said.

"It's not a problem." Draco gave them a small, tight smile.

"Charity?" Harry blurted. "Seriously?"

This, finally, had the power to turn Malfoy's attention Harry's way, though his eyes were now flinty hard. He took a deep breath. "No, it's all an elaborate ruse to wind you up, Potter."

"I don't mean anything by it, I'm just—"

"You're just shocked. No reason for me to be offended by that."

"I... Look, I just didn't know, alright?"

"Yes, why would you?" Malfoy drank down a good portion of his Firewhiskey, leaning back into his chair and avoiding Harry's gaze stubbornly. "The company of dragons doesn't exactly make for good gossip."

Harry opened his mouth to say something, though he had no idea what and ended up closing it again. Malfoy had clearly kept better tabs on him than Harry had been capable of. Not that Harry hadn't thought about it. Not that Harry hadn't wrestled with the very idea—of whether or not to look into what Malfoy was up to. He'd just... he'd spent so much time in his youth doing exactly that. And he knew where that had ended up. He'd decided it was just better. To not.

Something inside him woke now though, hearing that Malfoy had known all along where Harry was and what he was doing.

"Well," Pansy sighed, sharing a look with Ginny. "That's great, about the venue. I'm glad that's sorted."

"Right," Ginny said. "So, um, second order of business: We have a tailor we like who is going to work with us on doing sort of more modern dress robes. Would that be alright with both of you?"

Malfoy cleared his throat. "Sure." He took another sip.

"Yeah, sure." Harry nodded.

"Great." Ginny smiled. "We'll set up fittings for this week."

Malfoy finished his drink, setting the glass on the table. "Is that all tonight then?"

"Oh, well, we had thought we might also cover—" Ginny looked at Pansy.

"No, it's fine," Pansy said. "We can get to the rest, um, some other time." She looked briefly at Harry with an uncomfortable smile and then turned it on Malfoy.

Malfoy stood and straightened his cuffs. "Thank you for the drink." And then Harry watched as he leaned in and kissed first Pansy's cheek and then Ginny's. He did it like he'd done so before. Like Harry had just missed all those other times. He felt like he'd walked into a film ten minutes before the credits were scheduled to run.

He stood, not knowing what else to do with himself.

Malfoy took a deep breath, and he slanted a glance Harry's way. "Potter." Then he strode toward the door with Pansy following.

Ginny stood there with Harry, observing him in a way that he wished she wouldn't. He found he envied that Malfoy had made his escape. Once he heard the front door close on his departure, Harry went over and hugged Ginny.

"I think I'd better be going as well."

"So soon?" She pulled back and looked at him, concerned.

"Yeah, I just didn't sleep great last night."

"You can stay here," she enthused. "We have the room, Harry."

He gently extricated himself from her with an apologetic smile. "My hotel's fine. Thanks though. I just... I need to catch up on sleep, that's all. You can put me to work after that, no problem. That's what I'm here for."

"You too?" Pansy asked when Ginny escorted him to the door.

"Goodnight, Pansy. Thanks for inviting me."

"Anytime," Ginny said meaningfully.

He spared them each a smile. And then when the door closed on him, he turned with a sigh and walked down to the pavement.

It was a crisp night, the edges clean of clouds, and Harry walked a long way. He walked through the residential neighbourhood and into a district with small restaurants with outdoor tables, people eating and laughing with one another.

He walked to the first Tube station he found and descended the steps. He had enough Muggle money in his pockets, and he paid for a ticket.

Harry liked the Tube. He always had. The motion and the sounds were soothing, like riding a very sedate and predictable dragon. And being underground. He liked that too. He wasn't sure why. He'd had some terrible experiences being underground in his life—after the Chamber of Secrets had been opened, being in the Gringotts vaults, (speaking of dragons). But the Tube felt safe. It felt like if he just kept travelling along the electrified rails, he was going somewhere and not, all at the same time. He was living. And not.

Harry watched the Muggles get on, ride awhile, and get off. He watched them hold their newspapers and their books and their phones. He stared past them at the adverts lining the walls of the stops: department stores, electronics, travel agents, new restaurants, Muggle politics. At one point he closed his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest, and he just listened. He was lulled by the soft screeching of brakes, of the rumble of the engine, the high-pitched whir of wheels.

He tried not to remember.

...Draco's shirt peeled off hurriedly. Harry's lips touching his skin. Their hands down one another's trousers.

They'd never dated exactly. It wasn't that. It had just been sex. Just for a few months. Just the two of them getting off as often as they could, excited for it, yearning for it.

Malfoy had been Harry's first.

Malfoy had been...

Harry opened his eyes, rubbing at them like he could vanish the images his mind still made too easily. Like they'd all just been on pause in there. Like his brain had the locking mechanism of a Pensieve, hardly judging what it kept and unable to purge whatever had been poured into it.

Malfoy had been poured into him. And it didn't matter how many years had passed. Malfoy had stood there in Ginny and Pansy's house, and Harry had looked at him, and that's all it took.

Harry stared across the aisle at the instructions on the metal capsule they rode in. Instructions on how to exit in an emergency. Harry studied it, trying to memorise it, and he huffed a mirthless laugh at himself for it. There was no bloody escape.

He got off at the next stop but only to step into a small diner and order himself a cup of coffee to go. Then he caught the next train. And he rode it half the night.

*

The next evening he was to meet Ron and Hermione. They were, of course, far and away what he missed most about having left. And so he felt he should be unreservedly happy to be seeing them. There just didn't seem to be anything unreserved in his life anymore. Not even for the two most important people in it.

At least, that's how he'd felt before he walked into the Leaky and saw them sitting together in a booth by the front windows.

Hermione's face split into a huge smile, and she jumped up to hug him as he approached. Ron was next, drawing him into a fierce embrace and pounding Harry on the back.

"Mate," he said, the emotion evident in his voice. "It's good to see you."

He pulled back and beamed at Harry, holding him by the shoulders for a moment.

"So, do you actually wrestle the dragons or what?" He squeezed the muscles in Harry's arms briefly, and Harry blushed. Again.

"Only when I'm really bored."

"Sit," Hermione said eagerly. "Ron, get him a drink. Harry, what do you want?"

He shrugged. "I'll take a beer, thanks."

"So," Hermione said excitedly, reaching across the table and squeezing Harry's hand in her own. Her wedding ring shone under the lights, recently cleaned, and it shimmered against her skin, winking at Harry cheerfully. "Did you see them? Ginny and Pansy? Aren't they just ridiculously happy?"

"I did see them, yeah." Harry scratched his neck. He'd worn a comfortable brown turtleneck tonight to hide his injury, but it still itched and maybe more so when he was feeling either anxious or charged. He felt a bit of both, the familiarity of his friendship with them jostling with all the time he'd not been here to nurture it.

Ron returned with his beer, and Harry sipped it, taking a chip from the basket of them in the middle of the table and popping it into his mouth.

"I've never seen Ginny happier," Ron said, entering the conversation as though he'd never left it.

Hermione nodded. "Yes and who would have thought? Pansy bloody Parkinson." She shook her head.

"So... you're not...?"

"Oh no!" Hermione hurried to correct. "She's fine. Brilliant actually. We've all sort of worked things out over the years. It's long-since been fine really, with her and Zabini..."

Ron jumped in. "Yeah, and Daphne, Millicent, Malf—"

There was the unmistakable sound of a boot smashing into a shin at that moment.

"Ow!" Ron complained. "I can't say his name? It's just the truth." He reached down to rub his leg under the table with a muttered, "Merlin."

"Sorry," Hermione said. "I just... Knee-jerk, you know?"

"Literally," Ron snorted.

Harry found himself smiling at the two of them, how little they'd changed but how much had actually happened.

"So," he finally sighed, giving in to what he wanted so very much to ask, "how is he then?"

Ron and Hermione looked at each other, at a bit of a loss maybe. Perhaps they were now regretting not getting their Draco Malfoy stories straight before they'd left the flat.

"Good? Bad? Terrible? Excellent?" Harry provided, snagging another chip.

"Good?" Hermione said.

Harry nodded. "I've learned he's become a productive member of society."

"You've learned that already?" Ron asked.

"He was there last night."

They shared a look with one another again.

"What?" Harry asked.

"I'm just a little surprised Ginny would..."

"Spring him on me? Yeah." He stuffed another chip into his mouth. "So, he's good then."

"Busy, I guess," Ron added.

"Mm." Everything in Harry's chest decided to fight with the other things, his lungs protesting the strong beating of his heart, his ribs seeming to contract. He severely regretted asking the question.

Malfoy had been good. He'd been good. 'Busy.' Harry wanted to smash things, starting with his beer mug and ending with the Leaky's windows. He breathed it down. His friends were starting to look worried about him.

"Sorry," Harry said. "It's been..." He wasn't sure how he wanted to finish that sentence. Hard? A long time? Crap? An actual clusterfuck?

Hermione saved him but in the most annoying way possible. "It's understandable, Harry."

He didn't want to be understandable. He didn't want Malfoy to be understandable. He didn't want all the time they'd spent together and then all the time apart to be understandable. He didn't understand it at all.

He sighed, determined to drop it even if it fell like a lead brick onto his own foot. "So," he said, "tell me how you've been." He forced a smile onto his face, albeit a tense one.

"Well," Hermione looked at Ron. "We've sort of been brilliant."

"Oh?" Harry felt the heavy shadows melt from his shoulders hearing it. He stuffed three more chips into his mouth.

Ron cleared his throat. "Yeah, well, first of all, I'm taking over the joke shop in Hogsmeade in the Fall."

"Really? Just you?"

"Bugger off!" Ron laughed.

"No, no, I just meant... Wow, Ron, that's great. But... Hogsmeade? Oh! Hermione, are you going back to teach Arithmancy again? I thought you were going to take another research year."

"Well, that's the other thing," Hermione said. "I'm actually not going back to teach Arithmancy. I'm going back..." She looked at Ron and smiled before her gaze landed on Harry once more. "...to be Headmistress."

"Holy— Are you serious?" Harry felt himself beaming at her, and Hermione beamed back, nodding.

"McGonagall asked me," she said. "And I accepted."

"Yeah, and I figured if Hermione was going to be up there all year with all that new responsibility and hardly a chance to come home, I wanted to be close." Ron gave her a smile full of warmth and the kind of happiness Harry had only known between the two of them. It simultaneously hurt and mended his own heart, observing it between them.

"Fantastic!" Harry said. "That's bloody fantastic! Hermione..." Pride filled his chest, and in the next moment, he spontaneously stood, lifting his beer, and shouted to the pub, "My friend's going to be Headmistress of Hogwarts!"

The pub cheered in answer, several arms rising with drinks sloshing in impromptu toasts.

It was at the height of his happy moment that Harry's eyes then fell on the blond man in the navy waistcoat at the bar. Malfoy had turned his head at Harry's voice and was now looking at him, neither angry nor happy, not frowning or smiling. He just looked. And as Harry's unabashed smile slid a little from his face and he blinked, he looked back.

He hadn't seen Malfoy come in. He must have used the Floo. Not that it mattered. He was here now.

Harry swallowed, and sat back down. He gave his friends a new smile. "Merlin," he said. "Congratulations." The three of them lifted their glasses then in a small toast of their own and drank, and Harry only cut his gaze back to the bar once, and quickly, to ascertain that Malfoy did indeed still sit there.

"This is amazing," Harry said. "So McGonagall's stepping down? Not that I don't want you to have the job, but do you know why?"

A lump of regret formed under his ribs. There was so much he didn't know. So much he'd missed. He hadn't been to visit Hogwarts in all the time he'd been away, not once. And now McGonagall was leaving. Who knew what other changes had taken place?

Hermione informed him that McGonagall was only going into semi-retirement and had agreed to a consultant position within the Ministry.

"Something to do with training the Unspeakables, but you know, no one will talk about it."

"Fascinating," said Harry, and they proceeded to talk about the other professors at the school, about how the joke shops were doing, and what all the other Weasleys were up to.

Harry asked after Bill and Fleur, being that Fleur had recently announced they were pregnant with their third, but then he made the mistake of, once more, glancing at the bar. He knew he'd already checked more than one time too many. Enough was really enough. He cleared his throat. "Actually, hold that thought. Anybody for a fresh round?"

"Sure, mate," Ron said. "If it's on you, I'll take a better ale than this."

Harry gave him a smirk and a playful shove. Then he turned to the bar and took a deep breath.

He made no pretense, sidling up right beside Malfoy's barstool and signalling the bartender.

"Hey," Harry said to Malfoy who gave him a surprised glance. "I'll buy you one. What are you drinking?" Harry wasn't sure where the impulse came from. Probably from something other than the ice tinkling around Malfoy's near-empty glass.

"It's just water," Malfoy told him.

"But you've been sitting her for—" Harry abruptly stopped before he advertised any more blatantly that he'd clocked Malfoy's time at the bar as though he had a stopwatch.

"I'm waiting for someone." Malfoy's jaw twitched, and he peered at the labels on the bottles, his thumb moving along the condensation on his glass. "And I hardly ever drink."

"You threw down a double pretty quick last night." Harry's words felt out of his control. Ford Anglia, meet Whomping Willow.

Malfoy turned his head and speared Harry with his silvery gaze. He said nothing, and then after a moment he turned back and looked down into his glass.

Harry felt his throat constrict some at what might have been some kind of admission or insinuation — that Malfoy had had a drink because of seeing Harry. But Harry couldn't be sure that's what it meant. He found himself wondering what, indeed, he was hoping for. Did he want to have driven Malfoy to drink? Was that the kind of man he was?

Merlin, yes.

Harry sighed at the instant fervor of his indiscreet inner voice. He didn't want it to be right. And yet he'd be lying if he didn't acknowledge that he wanted to affect Malfoy. He wanted to affect Malfoy like Malfoy had always been able to affect him.

The bartender came over, and Harry ordered the drinks for his table.

"So, Granger's got a promotion then," Malfoy said.

Harry squinted a frown at him, though he'd said nothing insulting. Harry realised it was simply that he might be anticipating the worst from Malfoy and so was wary when he didn't get it.

"Tell her congratulations for me," Malfoy added, sounding more genuine than Harry had expected.

"I will." Harry stood there as the bartender poured drinks, and then he just couldn't not ask. "What are you doing here, Malfoy?"

He hadn't meant it to sound like an interrogation, but from the way Malfoy turned and gave him a rather incredulous look, Malfoy had taken it as one.

"Seriously, Potter?" He rolled his eyes, shaking his head and taking the last ice-cool sip of his water. "Where are you hiding the Time Turner? Because I'd rather not be back in sixth year."

He laid down a couple Galleons, turning and standing, his body coming entirely too near to Harry's as he did so. Of course, that was really more because Harry didn't move back to give him any room. Malfoy smelled like rain and darkness, some sort of unholy concoction that made Harry salivate.

Then Harry watched Malfoy turn to a tall, brown-haired man, also in nice clothes, and shake his hand.

"Shall we?" he asked the man, who nodded, and then Malfoy spared Harry one last withering look before he followed his companion to a table on the other side of the pub.

"Oi. Your drinks." The bartender interrupted Harry's staring after Malfoy, and with a start, Harry dug in his pockets for the money he needed to pay.

"He just took care of it," the bartender informed him, magicking the money from the bar top and into the cash register.

Harry looked back to see Malfoy and the man taking their seats and speaking seriously. Heat blazed along Harry's skin, and he regretted the bloody turtleneck after all. It was no longer winter, for fuck's sake, and he handled dragons. Scars came with the territory. So now he was hot and aggravated, and he nearly botched the charm to get the drinks back to the booth safely without spilling.

He could sense Ron and Hermione's concern as he sat back down, and he realised he was frowning.

"Sorry," he said. "I don't know if you saw but—"

"We did," Ron said.

"He says congratulations," Harry all but grumbled. "The drinks are on him too." He drank about a third of his own beer and then wiped the foam from his lip. "I'm sorry," Harry said, softening.

Hermione reached across the table and laid her hand over his, but he gave a wan smile and withdrew it, cutting his gaze to Malfoy's table to make sure he hadn't caught a glimpse of Harry being comforted — because of him. But Malfoy was deep in conversation with the good-looking bloke.

Harry took a deep breath and focused again on his friends. They ordered food and ate and talked, until Hermione was caught out trying to stifle a yawn. They settled the bill, Harry insisting on paying which almost resulted in he and Ron coming to wands, but then with a resolute nod, Ron gave in. They stood to go.

"Do you want to walk to the Apparition point, Harry?" Hermione suggested, only sparing a small glance Malfoy's way. Her meaning could not be more clear, of course. As much as Ginny and Pansy might be interested in trying to get Harry and Malfoy to safely collide, Hermione seemed invested in the opposite.

Harry opened his mouth to agree, but just then, as Harry looked past his friends, Malfoy stood from the table and made his way toward the bathroom, disappearing inside.

"I think I'll just visit the loo first. You guys go on though."

They each hugged him again, and then Ron and Hermione left, his arm around her, her hands going into her pockets. She took one last look over her shoulder at him and gave a little wave.

Harry smiled, returning it, and he watched them walk down the pavement a way before he turned back to the bathroom, took a deep breath, and then made his way over. The man at Malfoy's table appeared to be preparing to leave, and Harry caught himself scowling unpleasantly at him before he intentionally schooled his features into something less violent-looking.

He pushed into the bathroom, having not at all decided why he was even in there, what he might say, what he might do. Malfoy was standing at a sink, washing his hands, and he looked up, their gazes meeting in the mirror as Harry stood just inside the door.

Malfoy dried his hands with a towel he conjured. "Are you lost? The stalls are just there. Romania's that way." He gestured with his elbow before he Banished the towel and turned, his eyes glittering.

"You didn't Owl or Floo or Portkey or anything." The words struck from Harry like some sort of weapon he didn't realise he was wielding. His heart caught fire inside in his chest and raged, becoming a throbbing ember, throwing sparks off with every pump of blood.

Malfoy looked stunned for a moment, like the words were truly ones he'd never expected to hear. Then he scoffed. "I didn't leave."

Harry stalked up to him, his hands in fists, and Malfoy's back hit the wall. "I was twenty years old."

"So was I, Potter."

"I had to leave," Harry seethed.

"Why, because you had some calling to work with dragons suddenly?"

"Maybe!"

Malfoy scoffed again, one corner of his lips turning up snidely. "You selfish prick. I hope you got what you were after over there." He suddenly reached up, and Harry flinched as he took hold of the turtleneck, pulling it away from Harry's throat and exposing the scar. "How many more have you added to the collection? Do you have enough yet, Harry?"

Harry felt an ugly gravity pull him closer, and he crowded Malfoy against the wall. Their gazes locked. Malfoy's fist remained bunched in Harry's shirt, knuckles resting against his collarbone. Harry pressed his palm to the wall beside Malfoy's head and watched Malfoy's lashes as he blinked. Harry's breath came just a little too hard, a little too fast.

He wanted to answer... wanted to shout in his face. He wanted to have an answer. But he'd done the most dangerous thing he could do: He'd come back here to England, to this bathroom, into Malfoy's vicinity, without one.

The only answer Harry seemed even remotely certain of was that he wanted like fuck to kiss him.

Malfoy seemed to see it in his eyes. His own darkened, and he stared at Harry's lips. His grip on Harry's shirt loosened, and the backs of two fingers lay against Harry's hot skin. They moved, just the whisper of an inch, along the scar. Harry's cock jerked to attention.

The door opened, and Harry stepped back so quickly it made his head spin. The wizard glanced at them both and then did a swift double-take, a frown forming on his brows even as he stepped up to a urinal.

Harry looked at Malfoy standing there one last time. Malfoy looked like Harry had pulled a wand and Stunned him, his cheeks pink, eyes clouded with uncertainty, back still pressed to the wall.

Harry turned and stormed out, not stopping until he was out on the pavement, and then not stopping there either. He made it to the Apparition point, squeezed his eyes shut, and let the magic take him back to the safety of his hotel.

He slammed into his room, shaking a little from the adrenaline. He went right for the shower, twisting the lever as hot as he could stand. He stripped off his clothes, but before he stepped under the spray, he caught sight of himself in the rapidly fogging mirror. The scars all seemed darker under this light, and he found himself leaning in, rubbing the fog away with the outside of one fist and running his fingers over the locket scar above his heart.

He lifted his gaze, meeting his own eyes, and he saw the tension there, like a spell reverberating inside a wand. He tilted his head, exposing his neck, and drew his fingers down the scar Malfoy had bared.

It was only then that he realised that Malfoy must have seen it the night before, at Pansy and Ginny's. He must have noticed it then.

And he had remembered.

Harry stepped into the shower and shut the door. He backed into the deluge with a lurid groan. His half-hard cock slipped into his hand, and he pumped it erect. He leaned back against the tile and shut his eyes.

...that first time they'd done more than jerky handjobs. When Malfoy had been a little drunk, and he'd pulled Harry into the bathroom stall and gone down on his knees and blown him. Those silver-grey eyes peering up at Harry. Harry's cock moving slow in his mouth.

The orgasm stole his breath, and Harry stroked himself roughly, body jolting, a choked cry leaving his lips.

*

Harry attempted to Floo-call Ginny the next day about the fitting, but it appeared the Floo in his hotel room was dodgy. At the front desk, they apologised, said they'd been having some magical difficulties for a couple of days, that the Ministry had been notified and was sending someone out, but that in the meantime Harry could rent an owl for correspondence and use the lobby's working Floo for transport.

Harry didn't tell them he'd rather risk Splinching himself in a drunken furor than trust their Floo but happily rented a nice barn owl named Maynard for the remainder of his stay.

Harry wrote his Owl there at the front desk and entrusted Maynard with his message before going out for breakfast.

Harry was settling his bill when Maynard found him again, and Harry let the owl at his leftover toast edges, still sticky with marmalade, as he unfurled Ginny's note.

Tried to Floo-call you last night. Sorry your hotel's having issues. How is today after lunch? The address for the tailor is 22 Norwich Way. Door's on the east side. Tap four times quick with your wand.

G&P

Harry scribbled back an RSVP and sent Maynard off again.

He spent the time before the fitting just wandering around, this time above ground. He thought about visiting the Burrow and seeing Molly and Arthur. He thought about trying to find Luna or Neville or Dean and Seamus. But instead he just walked along the Thames, watching the way the sun's ascent reflected on the water or how the river bus's wake lapped out in small, white waves.

It wasn't like the river behind the reserve where Harry would go to soak his tired, sore feet in the sharp cold of the rushing water. It wasn't couched in by woods, dividing trees from brush, so clear every dart of fish was like an underwater Snitch. This river was a place all its own and a route from here to there. It separated buildings from buildings, city from city. Strangely, it was more silent than the river in the woods where you could hear birdsong, leaves rustling, and your own breath and heartbeat in every moment.

Harry didn't dislike the Thames. It just wasn't what he'd come to associate with the word 'river'. It seemed too bound and changed by its proximity to the city itself, just a vein in the larger system of the body, not the body itself.

He ate a quick bite from a Muggle street vendor, a van selling gyros and falafel. Harry scarfed his lunch on a park bench, and then found a good place from which to Apparate once he'd put up a Disillusionment charm.

Twenty-two Norwich Way was a dank little building on a crooked street of other dank little buildings. It made Harry wonder just how Ginny and Pansy had found it, and why on earth they'd been swayed to its charms. But after four quick taps of his wand on the eastern door, he stepped inside and realised why himself. Because unlike the outside, indoors the shop was colourful, bright, and quaint. Every surface boasted glittering fabrics, rich with detail — pinks, oranges, purples — and several sewing machines whirred on their own from the corners of the room, lending the place an air of contented busyness.

"Harry Potter. Strip."

Harry started at the voice, sort of familiar but oddly not. And no one he knew was on familiar enough terms to order him to do that. Well, Charlie had that one time Harry had been blasted with dragon dung and covered head to foot. But that was a special circumstance.

He turned now and found Millicent Bulstrode, a tape measure slung over her shoulder, smiling at him with amusement.

"I'm joking," she said. "You'll want to come back here in my fitting room before you take your clothes off."

"Um, hi Millicent. Are you the tailor then?"

"Well, let's hope so, or else I'm just somebody trying to get you starkers. Not that you can't leave your pants on. In fact, I'd request that you do. I should have a sign up that says that actually. You wouldn't believe how many naked peens I've encountered in my work."

"Is that so?"

"Come on then," she said, turning and making her way through a doorway at the back of the shop. Harry followed her through a short, dark hallway and then through another doorway that opened into a well-lit but rather cramped dressing area.

It was made more cramped by the presence of one Draco Malfoy.

Harry couldn't stop the gasp and belatedly tried to turn it into a sigh of aggravation. It wasn't that he wasn't aggravated; he definitely was. This made three accidental meetings in the three days he'd been back, after all. It was nothing if not aggravating. Especially given how they'd last left off in the bathroom at the Leaky, Draco's fist clutching Harry's clothes, them breathing in one another's faces.

Especially since the last time Harry had thought of him, his hand had been a frenzied blur on his own cock.

Harry cast his gaze up to see Draco roll his eyes. He stood on a short bench, already being fitted for his robes which he wore like some sort of wealthy prince. Harry blinked, taking in his appearance. The black trousers fit his long legs, the green robes split down the front so that the waistcoat he wore underneath was visible. It hugged his torso intimately, and now Harry saw why Ginny and Pansy had chosen Millicent for this. She'd taken an already beautiful creature such as Draco Malfoy and drenched him in fine fabrics that seemed to caress him.

He looked bored standing there, his eyes slightly hooded, expression as disdainful as Harry had ever seen it.

He'd changed in the twelve years since Harry had seen him, and it was only now settling in Harry's gut just how much. He was still lean and angular, but he'd filled out just enough that where clothes may have once hung from his frame, now, as though they mirrored Harry's desire, they clung. He looked... like he belonged in his skin. Like he was made to take up the space where he stood. Like he owned all the air around him.

He was fucking gorgeous, and Harry absolutely hated that fact.

"Up," Millicent commanded, and Harry turned his incredulous gaze on her.

"What, there?" He pointed to the only other bench in the room, directly across from Malfoy's. "No, I don't think so. Look, I can come back when you're not as busy." He turned, but Millicent's hand shot out and grasped his elbow.

"I am never not busy, Potter. It's now or in five weeks' time, which is far too late, and Weasley will have your arse, I dare say, and Pansy mine. So..." She gestured to the bench.

And now Draco looked smugly pleased. The fucker.

Harry scowled and stepped onto the bench, facing a gleaming Malfoy. Harry firmed his jaw.

"Scared?" Malfoy asked, tugging a little at one cuff and then the other, his gaze never leaving Harry's.

"Sod off."

And then Millicent said again, "Strip. To your knickers." She waltzed over to a large cupboard in the corner of the room and started digging around inside. "Bugger," she said and then left the room entirely.

Harry sighed. He just wanted to go. Fuck the dress robes. But if he left now, it really would be out of fear. He was stuck.

You're doing this for your friends. For their perfect, bloody wedding. It will all be over soon, he coached himself.

It didn't help that Malfoy stood there looking at him, everything about his expression one big dare. Harry firmed his jaw and then proceeded to pull his jumper off over his head, letting it drop to the floor. He toed off his shoes and then peeled down his trousers, kicking the lot away and standing straight again.

Harry set his hands on his hips, looking at the floor while he waited for Millicent's return. He could hear her rummaging in the next room, humming a tune as she went. Harry did his best not to fume. Bloody hell, it was easier to work the sunrise shift with a new dragon than it was to just stand here in his pants like this in front of Malfoy.

The sigh was soft, almost nonexistent. Harry thought it was Millicent returning, so when he lifted his gaze and saw Malfoy's face, it was with some surprise that he realised it had to have been him instead.

In the time it had taken Harry to disrobe, Draco had transformed. Gone were the disdain, the boredom, the smug little smile. Now, his lips were parted, his cheeks a high pink, his eyes a bit glassy, all as his gaze raked slowly down Harry's nearly naked body. His attention lingered over Harry's bare chest, taking in the sparse hair, slowing over Harry's hard, dark nipples and then sliding down his abdomen, the hair that trailed in an arrow down into his grey boxer-briefs.

Malfoy's gaze went lower, over his hard thighs and dense calves, down even to Harry's ankles, before it rose once more, settling between his legs and getting stuck there. Malfoy blinked. He licked his lips absently. And then he raised his eyes back to Harry's, looking just slightly startled to be caught checking Harry out so thoroughly. But just when Harry thought he'd break eye contact, he swallowed and just took his fill all over again.

This second perusal brought a flush to Harry's tanned skin, and he felt the pulse point at his throat beating quickly, erratically. Malfoy's gaze dragged over Harry's chest, and now he seemed to be mapping the new scars, tilting his head and observing the ways that Harry's body had changed since he'd last touched it. Harry inhaled slowly under his appraisal. It was less prolonged than the first had been, and it was only moments before they were staring at one another once more, neither speaking with anything other than the tense look they shared.

But Malfoy had transformed yet again. Now, both the smugness and the stunned appraisal had evaporated, and in their wake there was only... Hunger. His eyes were dark, his expression calm but simmering. He stared into Harry's eyes, and he may as well have said it aloud:

I still want you.

Harry swallowed slowly, his stomach contracting with excitement. And then Millicent returned and held a set of clothes aloft for Harry.

"Here we are. I believe these will work, given your measurements."

"When did you take my measurements?"

"I'm a very good guesser."

Harry dressed with what she gave him as Millicent turned back to Draco and made adjustments. She'd been right: The robes fit well, the trousers the perfect length. Harry really was no fan of dressing up, but he could certainly live through an evening in one of Millicent's creations. He felt the subtle magic in her stitches, how the material softened against his skin and maintained a good temperature, adjusting so that he wasn't too hot as his body warmed the clothes from the inside.

"Nice," Millicent decided when she turned back to Harry, tapping her chin with a finger and letting her scrutinous gaze travel him.

"Draco, I'm done with you. You can change," she tossed back over her shoulder.

Harry felt a weird little leap of anticipation zing through his brain before Millicent shattered his hopes of getting to ogle Draco as Draco had so easily been able to ogle him.

"Turn around."

He opened his mouth to protest but then, realising how obvious it would be that he wanted to watch Draco undress, he closed his mouth again, sighing and turning around on his bench. Millicent tugged at the robes, fit her hands to his waist, dusted absolutely nothing off his shoulders — and all the time, Harry could hear the rustle of Draco's clothes behind him. He tried getting peeks over his shoulder only to have Millicent reprimand him, "Stand straight, Potter."

By the time she'd finished objectifying Harry's backside and he was allowed to turn once more, Draco was dressed in his street clothes — which weren't that much less dressy that the wedding robes honestly.

"Thanks, Mill," Draco said, checking his watch with a slight frown. "You'll be at the party, won't you?"

"Wouldn't miss it."

He gave her a quick smile, cast one last inscrutable glance at Harry, and then disappeared down the little hall and out the eastside door.

"What party?" Harry asked.

*

The good news was that Harry had an entire week that he didn't have to see Malfoy. Ginny kept him busy tasting every cake in the city and going over menus until the words 'chicken' and 'vegetarian' both ceased to have any meaning in his mind.

The bad news was that this party Malfoy had referenced was something Harry was compelled by both Ginny and Pansy to attend or else they'd hex his bollocks off — and it was at Malfoy's flat.

Harry hadn't spent much time on his own that week. When Ginny wasn't dragging him around doing wedding stuff, he'd managed to get invited to tea with Mr and Mrs Weasley. He'd navigated their awkward questions about his life, constantly feeling like he gave the wrong answers. They seemed pleased to see him nonetheless.

He found himself not so much missing the dragon reserve but concerned about its everyday operations in his absence. He hadn't heard from Charlie, and so he sent one of the hotel's more long-distance owls with a long letter attached to her leg asking for specifics on the hatchlings, Parvati's yearlings, on the new recruits and if Charlie thought any would be viable beyond the summer season.

Harry knew that no news was likely good news — or boring news, rather. But he felt hopelessly out of the loop. It was really more for his own benefit than Charlie's or the dragons' that he wanted to be updated.

Maybe he just didn't want to be forgotten. It was a foreign sensation, not wanting to be forgotten. He could remember when he left England in the first place, and that had seemed like all he could ever want: to disappear for a while.

He'd disappeared for too long though. That was becoming abundantly clear. He felt as though he'd even done a vanishing act on himself and was now feeling around in the dark for some sense of his body in space, trying to locate wherever it was that his own heart now resided.

The party was on a Saturday night, and its entire purpose was to get together as many of Ginny and Pansy's friends as possible ahead of the wedding itself in order to celebrate the occasion in a more relaxed environment.

As Harry approached the flat though, he had to wonder how 'relaxed' anyone could get in the home of Draco Malfoy. It was the grandest flat Harry had ever seen, for one, easily able to fit three of Pansy and Ginny's townhouses inside it.

The door alone was a huge affair, towering over the front steps. Although it was far from ominous, Harry realised, painted a shiny Christmas red and befit with a knocker shaped like, of all barmy things, a pineapple. When Harry lifted it and let it fall, it then startled him by not knocking at all but playing... Harry frowned and tilted his head, listening harder. Merlin, it was a jaunty version of 'Weasley Is Our King'.

"What the bloody—"

"I've got it!" a female voice sang from inside before the giant door swung open to reveal Daphne Greengrass, a bubbling glass of something atrociously pink and noxious in her hand. "Potter!" she said jovially.

Apparently, he still wore a rather bizarre look on his face because she nodded. "The knocker song?"

"Er, yeah."

She led him into the bright foyer. "It's charmed to play whatever would be the least expected song for the person who knocks."

"Huh." It seemed a weirdly whimsical touch for a door owned by Draco Malfoy.

"A gift from Luna Lovegood two birthdays ago," Daphne elaborated.

And if anything, that Luna had given Draco a birthday gift — that he'd then utilised in prominent fashion for nearly two years — was even more surprising than the pineapple door knocker itself.

"Harry!" Seamus shouted from the living room, jumping up off a sofa to give him a monstrous hug. Dean followed. And then there was a veritable receiving line of his friends.

Harry wasn't quite prepared for the feelings that emerged at seeing them all so suddenly. When he'd agreed to return for the wedding, he'd pictured everyone being so focused on the happy couple that he faded into the crowd a bit. He'd not expected the homecoming he got just barely inside Malfoy's door tonight.

"Neville," Harry said, hugging him. "Merlin, it's good to see you. Luna!" Practically everyone from their year at Hogwarts it seemed (and a few from other years as well) was there and greeting him warmly, enthusiastically. Someone pressed a beer bottle into his hand, and he turned to find Lee Jordan by his side.

"Lee!" They embraced, and Lee patted him soundly on the back. "I heard you call the Arrows/Wasps game a few weeks ago," Harry said. "That was a good one."

"Thanks, Harry. It's so good to see you."

Cho Chang was there, as well as Anthony Goldstein, plus Susan Bones and Ernie MacMillan, and then all of Draco's friends from Slytherin. No Ron and Hermione yet, but he had been assured by Ginny that they'd show. The only other one Harry didn't see was Draco himself.

"Oh, he's in the kitchen mixing drinks," Pansy explained when asked.

"Well, I'm good with this," Harry said, lifting the bottle, yet he still craned his neck to try to see into the kitchen, albeit unsuccessfully.

Harry sipped and then was drawn by Ginny into a large, comfortable sitting area where he sank onto one end of a sofa, while Ginny and Pansy cuddled up at the other.

He would not have expected Draco to have such squishy furnishings, and he was on the verge of asking if the living room set had been a gift from Luna too when suddenly a large blue and grey Kneazle jumped presumptuously into his lap and began circling for sleep.

"Hey," Harry said to it.

"Oi, Draco!" Blaise yelled into the kitchen. "We found Ferdinand!"

Harry heard him before he saw him as Draco made his way from the kitchen to his living room. "Where did you find the little fuck, the entrance to hell?"

Levitating somewhere in the realm of ten or twelve drinks into the room, Draco stopped short seeing his animal now curled up on Harry's lap. "Bastard," he said.

"Harry or the Kneazle?" Seamus asked, clearly finding himself funnier than either Harry or Draco — or anybody in the room — did.

"Flip a bloody coin," Draco muttered and began disseminating drinks to people, one by one.

"Draco has two Kneazles," Ginny told Harry. "One's really sweet, and one's an arsehole."

"That's the arsehole," Pansy said and then thanked Draco for the glass of red wine.

"He hates people," Draco elaborated, frowning as he flicked his wand and sent the last beverages to their owners, "myself included. So of course..." He gestured to Harry, who realised he had been absently stroking the creature's head and it was now purring nearly as loudly as a Norwegian Ridgeback could snore.

"Do you have Kneazles, Harry?" Cho asked, "On the reserve?"

"Oh, actually there are about four barn Kneazles. They get the rats the owls miss." He smiled, and Ferdinand butted his head into Harry's hand when the petting slowed. "Aside from the dragons, we also have a herd of Thestrals that visits seasonally. Plus, a few unicorns, some Hippogriffs... And there's a nest of Bowtruckles outside my cabin now too."

As he spoke, Harry's gaze followed Malfoy. He was playing the dutiful host, asking around in a hushed voice if anyone needed refreshers on their drinks. He did so with a small frown creasing his forehead. Looking at him, Harry felt underdressed. Ginny had insisted the party was casual, and so he'd worn a t-shirt, jeans, and boots. But there Malfoy was, proper as ever in charcoal trousers and a matching waistcoat. At least he'd ditched the tie again, and his sleeves were rolled up nearly to his elbows, revealing his pale forearms and their dusting of blond hair and... his very faded Dark Mark, which Harry now saw he'd had tattooed over with... Fuck, he couldn't quite make it out as Draco moved about the room.

"No Kneazles of your own?" Blaise asked Harry now. "Ferdinand really likes you. He never even lets me near him."

At this, Draco turned a searing look on his friend, which just almost had Harry smiling. Okay, so, it did have him smiling. Just a little.

"No, no Kneazles," Harry replied. "The dragons are quite enough." Harry cleared his throat. "So, Draco." Draco's head whipped around, his eyebrows raised a bit in surprise. "You have a second Kneazle?"

Draco finally settled himself in an armchair, crossing an ankle over his knee and laying his hands on the armrests. "Yes, Ruby. She's here somewhere."

Harry stroked the animal on his lap, his gaze locked with Draco's. "How long have you had them?"

"Nearly five years."

"Didn't you rescue them from that illegal breeder? After that Auror raid?" Neville piped up, and Harry began realising that he should really stop being shocked that his friends not only knew what Draco had been doing with his life but were also actively a part of it themselves.

"Yeah," Theo Nott interjected. "You bought it, cleaned it up, and turned it into the shelter for abandoned creatures, right?"

"You help magical creatures?" Harry blurted. In the week and a half he'd been back, he'd come to shaky terms with the fact that Draco's main business now was funding and managing charitable foundations; he just had not thought that any of them might be related in any way to his own work. The new knowledge was disconcerting in the same way being knocked off-course by a Bludger while you'd been in a Wronski Feint toward the pitch was disconcerting.

Draco answered tightly, "Yes, I've found that helping Crups is more rewarding than kicking them had been." His angular jaw twitched as he ground his teeth.

"I didn't mean—"

"No, you never do, do you?"

"Harry!" Ginny inserted with a smile and less than deftly. She then proceeded to try to engage him in a conversation about Quidditch. It worked for a while, but after all the team stats had been exchanged, commented upon, and speculated about, Harry found himself looking across at Draco again.

...how he sat there in his plush chair, tapping a foot on his nice rug, looking around his own vast room.

"Big place," Harry found himself saying, catching Draco's eye again.

Draco frowned at him. "Your point?"

"Oh, nothing, it's just... You do charity work, so..."

"Harry," Ginny said in a warning tone he had no intention of heeding.

Something in Harry felt restless in a way only goading Draco could soothe. It felt in some way like he was trying to dig them up, to unearth all the old crap between them and aerate their history in front of everyone present — everyone who'd already accepted him, already befriended him and made him a part of their lives. Harry felt the back of his neck go rigid, a tension behind his eyes.

"Are you insinuating that someone in my line of work should live a less ostentatious life, Potter?" Draco's hands curled over the edges of the armrests. "Or are you being even more of a git than that and suggesting that I'm skimming off my own charitable funds to give myself a nice, big house?"

Draco didn't wait for an answer, standing abruptly and taking himself back into his kitchen, flicking violently with his wand so that all the empty glasses shot after him dangerously.

Harry looked around the room. Everybody seemed desperate to start new conversations with one another. But Ginny leaned over to him and whispered, "It's wizarding space, Harry. Can't you feel it? It's glamours and charms."

He frowned at her, his insides feeling alive in that way only being stabbed in the gut could remind you of. So very painfully alive for that moment before he bled out on Draco's nice rug.

"Don't get her wrong," Pansy chimed in. "It's a nice house." She turned flinty eyes on him. "But he bloody well deserves it."

He'd known he was wrong before he'd said anything. He'd known he was being an arse. He just hadn't been aware of exactly how big of one.

"Fuck," he said. "Excuse me."

Harry made his way into Draco's kitchen. It was a clean white-silver, very spacious and ordered. Draco stood at a counter, his back to Harry, with various bottles of alcohol in front of him and people's empty glasses spread about. His back was tense, body unnaturally still.

"I was a dick," Harry said. "I'm sorry."

Draco turned his face so that Harry saw him in profile. He sighed, said nothing, and then turned back to the counter.

"I'm really sorry," Harry said again.

"It's fine." Draco moved bottles around in front of him, aimlessly it seemed.

"It's really not. I mean, I never thought you were stealing from your own charities, I want to be clear."

"Fine."

"I'm a massive twat. You can say it."

Draco's shoulders tensed, but he said nothing.

Harry went on, a little desperately now. "Clearly, you've done well for the community, and—"

"Can we just drop it, Harry?" Draco sounded both strung tight and tired. Exhausted even. He slumped, his chin dropping.

"Yeah," Harry said. He took a few steps closer. "You don't have to forgive me or anything."

"Good, because I'm not going to." Draco turned a small smirk his way then, and Harry felt himself respond to the fragile promise in it.

"It's a really nice home."

Draco turned toward him, a disbelieving smile widening on his face. "You really have no idea what the phrase 'drop it' even means, do you?"

Harry sighed. They stood together, alone in Draco's bright kitchen, the sounds of the party renewing itself in the next room, recovering from Harry's blunder. Harry watched Draco drop his gaze to an unimportant and probably nonexistent spot on the counter, simply breathing.

"Would you mix me a drink?" Harry asked.

Draco raised his gaze, looking him in the eye and seeming to weigh his options — yes, no, get out, fuck off.

"What would you like?"

Harry wondered if Draco remembered his tastes. They'd been out to bars a few times, back in the day, and Harry tended to order the same things over and over. He took a deep breath and leaned his hip against the counter, crossing his arms. "Surprise me."

Draco's dilated pupils gave his eyes a dangerous intensity. But then he smirked a little. He reached out, snagging a bottle, charming over a clean glass.

Harry watched him work, half wand, half graceful hands handling this bottle, that, upturning this one, a dash from that. As Harry watched, he saw that Draco was indeed using some of Harry's old favourites. In fact, he seemed to be making him...

"Is that an Elderberry Elderwand?"

Draco tossed a lime into the air, slashed through it with a spell, and then caught the two halves, squeezing it into Harry's drink. "With a double splash of lime," he said. He pushed the finished product over to Harry, his eyes sparkling a little.

"I can't believe you—" Harry began. "Er, thanks."

Draco cleared his throat and started lining up everyone else's glasses along the countertop. "Did I do it right?" He avoided eye contact, busying himself with his ingredients.

Harry sipped, and the flavours mingled on his tongue. "It's perfect."

Draco began tapping his wand on glasses, setting charms for each person's drink of choice. "Good."

Harry stayed leaning there, sipping every so often and watching Draco work. Every once in awhile, he'd flip a bottle and then cut his gaze to see if Harry was watching. Harry chuckled, and Draco smiled, and it felt way too soon once he was finished. Harry felt like he could watch Draco mix drinks all night, just stand there staring at the sinuous arc of his arms, his deft fingers, the precision of his movements, and the fun he seemed to let himself have doing it. He could certainly enjoy watching Draco show out for Harry's benefit here and there. The alcohol opened something warm inside Harry's chest. As he leaned there. Watching.

When they rejoined the party, the energy in the room was completely different. It felt easier, but also charged. Like the air had adopted new electrons, and the orbit of all the atoms meant more frequent but quite pleasurable collisions.

Harry kept his distance from Draco, and Draco seemed to be doing the same with Harry, getting into a deep conversation with Blaise and Neville about Merlin knew what. Draco had Aguamenti'd himself an ice water, and every once in awhile he'd gesture with it, his long arms reaching to make a point, face relaxed and slightly animated as he spoke, intent as he listened.

Harry chatted with Cho about what it was like to be named the Seeker for the national team, and after a time, somebody put some music on.

"Oh!" Cho exclaimed happily. "It's that band, Tentacula. Like your shirt," she elaborated when Harry seemed slow on the uptake.

"Oh," he said, looking down at himself. He had worn his old concert t-shirt. He'd forgotten. He'd purchased it so long ago, and it was tighter now across his body than it had been then. Then, it had practically hung off him like he was wearing drapes. It was probably nearly ready for the bin now, it was so old.

Without meaning to, Harry's gaze lifted to watch Draco across the room. They'd been at that concert together. Which is to say, they'd each gone with friends but had ended up in one another's vicinities all night. They'd been having the affair, the thing, whatever it was for a while at that point, and that night, even before the band took its intermission, they'd snuck off, around the corner of the concessions building, into the darkness under the stars of the open-air amphitheatre, and...

The music now filled Harry's body with recognition, and he felt, ridiculously, that now everyone would know. Now that he had remembered, he must have worn that knowledge as surely as a bruise bitten onto his neck. Surely it shone on his chest like a Prefect's badge: I had sex with Draco Malfoy to this song.

And then something even more shocking occurred to him: Everybody in this room did know about them. Not about that night in particular, Harry was reasonably sure. But about them in general. It had not remained a secret for all that long, especially after Harry left. Hermione had educated him on that point.

Harry saw his prickish insinuations from earlier in this new light. He saw them how everyone else must have... the cranky verbal shoving of a disenchanted ex.

They would have seen Draco's departure into the kitchen for what it likely was too: actual hurt.

Merlin. Harry had hurt him.

Suddenly, Draco lifted his gaze and found Harry looking at him from across the room. The music continued to play, and Harry felt all the apt lyrics like magic whispered softly and irrevocably between them. Like Parseltongue. He swallowed, watching Draco slowly lift his glass and take a sip, his eyes never leaving Harry's face.

The door knocker suddenly erupted in a Muggle commercial jingle Harry remembered from his childhood. Draco broke eye contact, and once again Daphne jumped up to answer the door.

"Sorry we're late," Hermione said as she and Ron entered. "I hope the party's still going."

"Weasley." Draco shook Ron's hand. "Granger." He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

Harry felt the discombobulation of his worlds meshing uncomfortably, of the evidence that nothing had remained as it was and was now far, far messier than he'd been prepared for.

As his two friends made their way into the living room, Harry put on a smile and hugged them, while Draco made for the kitchen once more to fetch them beverages.

"I'm glad you made it," Harry said. And though it was true, immensely true, Harry still felt the rapacious need to exit the room with something verging on extreme haste. "I'll be back." Then he added, "Enjoy the sofa there. It's very squishy." Though for all Harry knew, they'd already visited and were well aware.

Hermione gave him a strange smile, and he turned and fled through a dimly lit hall, trying to find a bathroom where he could splash some water on his face and get some of his bearings back.

Harry wandered into a dark room, which, as his eyes adjusted, he realised must be Draco's bedroom. He felt he should turn around, go back into the hall, and continue his search. But now that he'd entered, his curiosity took hold.

Draco's bed was a large four-poster, the frame a thick and sturdy dark wood. His bedding was a deep plum with a bit of grey sheet folded down. It was made immaculately, and as Harry's gaze roamed the room, he found nothing out of place — probably just in case some knob like Harry went skulking about during the party.

Harry scoffed at himself, turning and nearly running into a large, hip-height, maple dresser with a broad mirror attached above it. He had to quell the temptation to open the drawers and rifle through Draco's personal things, instead balling his hands into fists and moving along until he came to the door of the ensuite bathroom.

With some relief, he closed himself inside and went ahead and pissed in the loo before washing his hands. But then he let his curiosity get the better of him in here too, and he peeked into Draco's large shower, turning his soaps this way and that, reading labels.

It was at once a gluttony to let his eyes ravish all things Draco Malfoy without anyone the wiser except his own conscience. It was also a lancing pain. This was Draco's life. His life which had nothing to do with Harry. Who knows how many men and maybe women Draco had brought back here to this house, to this bedroom, this large-enough-for-it shower, and fucked. Harry felt like a troll even thinking it. It wasn't as though he'd been a cloistered monk — though in twelve years he could easily count the people he'd bedded on his fingers and still spare a few.

Harry sighed, letting his hand drift over the cool marble countertop, imagining Draco here, slim hips wrapped only in a towel, taking a wand to his face to give himself a shave.

"Damn," Harry whispered. This is not why he'd come: to imagine all the ways they were no longer a part of one another's lives.

He exited the bathroom at a determined pace, wanting now only to leave Draco's private space to be whatever it was, to metaphorically wash his hands of it. But as he turned the corner into Draco's bedroom, a shadow loomed in the doorway, blotting out the meager light from the hall.

For a moment, they just stood there, motionless, maybe not even breathing.

Then Draco cast, "Lumos," flinging the bit of light into the room overhead, creating a soft golden glow over them and illuminating Harry's guilt at having been found where he shouldn't be. Merlin, if he had a knut for every time he'd been where he shouldn't, found or not...

Draco slowly stepped into the room, his gaze not quite calm. Almost. But not quite. Because something inside him simmered.

He swished his wand, and the door shut. Another flick, and it locked. Harry swallowed.

Draco took three leisurely steps closer, though it didn't feel at all relaxed. Harry felt like he was being stalked. The fine hairs along his arms leapt to attention.

Draco's gaze flicked down his body and back up. He huffed a bemused breath. "I've fucked you in that shirt."

The words, said softly, exploded into the air. Harry suppressed a gasp — that he'd said it, it had been acknowledged. The thing that was constantly pulsing there between them.

Draco hadn't forgotten. Maybe any of it.

Draco wore a faint frown, even as he stepped closer, so close, so that they were almost right up against each other. He reached up and lay his hand against Harry's face and neck, his thumb along Harry's jaw — and now Harry did gasp, a loud exhale of hard lust, something he could only repress when Draco Malfoy wasn't touching him. And now, finally, he was.

They fell on one another swiftly, Draco's tongue slipping into Harry's mouth without hesitation. Harry moaned when they licked against one another, again when Draco pulled him in roughly, a hand grasping Harry's hip hard. Harry wound his arms around Draco, pulling at him, anywhere he could reach, and their bodies brushed together, prompting Draco to breathe hard against Harry's lips.

Draco ripped into the button fly of Harry's jeans, and they bit at one another's lips, kissing deep.

"Turn around," Draco growled, and then when Harry did, Draco handled him until he was against the dresser, Draco close behind, like an animal with every intention of mounting.

Harry shoved at his jeans and pants, Accio'd his wand which had fallen to the floor at some point.

He heard Draco unzip behind him, those fine and freshly pressed trousers. He hadn't even bothered unbuttoning his waistcoat.

Harry conjured lube and then smeared it between the cheeks of his arse, shoving again at his jeans and pants to get them lower. Draco helped, stepping into the crotch of them and getting them quickly around Harry's ankles. He pulled up hard on Harry's leg, and Harry braced his knee, his hands, on the dresser.

Draco rubbed the head of his cock against Harry's slick anus.

"Harry..."

"Do it." Harry braced further, and then Draco was breaching him, a hissed breath catching in his mouth as he rocked his hips a little and inched himself inside.

Harry panted through the initial pain. Merlin, he wanted it to hurt. Some part of him even needed it to, longed for it.

He couldn't even truly believe that it was happening, not even as Draco drove himself forward and Harry felt the long, girthy cock stretching him.

Harry whined, hands scrabbling along the surface of the dresser, knocking over a candle and displacing a vase.

"Alright?" Draco asked.

Harry looked up into the mirror to see Draco behind him, skin flushed, effort written across his features.

"Yeah," Harry breathed.

Draco bit his lip and then thrust all the way inside, his jaw going slack, eyes fluttering closed, before he pried them open again and looked down at his cock vanishing up Harry's arse.

Harry gasped, gripping the furniture. It burned, and there was a deep, dull ache up inside him where the length of Draco's cock throbbed within.

Draco's gaze, dark and dangerous, found Harry's in the mirror. He looked back down at where they joined and then lifted his eyes again. Harry gulped. He nodded. And then Draco took him by the hips, watched himself as he pulled out, and then slammed himself home again with a loud groan.

Belatedly, Harry struck out with his wand and erected a strong privacy charm.

A smirk lit Draco's face. "Just in time," he sighed. "I want you to come loud while I'm fucking you."

Harry felt the words swirl up his spine, burrow into his chest, throb his bollocks in time with his thudding heart. He pressed a palm to the mirror. And then Draco began fucking him, shoving in hard repeatedly, banging them both into the dresser and the dresser into the wall.

"Harder," Harry got out. "Fuck me harder."

Draco gritted his teeth and snapped his hips, pulling back on Harry's with every thrust, his belt buckle jangling from where it hung from the trousers that still sat on his hips. Except for the look on his face and the way a strand of his hair came loose and swung over his forehead, he looked like he could be waiting in line at Gringotts, so polished and put-together and beautiful.

He shoved Harry's t-shirt up his back and lowered his mouth, licking Harry's warm skin and biting kisses into his flesh, hips slowing a little for it. Harry shivered, his eyes momentarily closing as though he could taste Draco's lips with his skin. As good as it felt to take Draco's cock from behind — and it was bloody heavenly — Harry wished he could touch him too. It had been years, and his hands ached for it.

Draco's hand slipped around front, over Harry's chest, and then grasped onto his shoulder, leveraging himself as he fucked into Harry harder again, his body close.

"Look at that," Draco whispered in his ear, his gaze finding Harry's in the mirror, the contact so heated Harry felt he couldn't maintain it. "Look at us fucking." There was a filthy awe in his voice that had Harry's cock dripping for him. His shaft pulled up hard. Draco's gaze dropped to watch Harry's body get jostled against the dresser while he fucked him. His hips drove forward powerfully, twice, three times, on little grunts of exertion, and then Draco's gaze met Harry's again. He gave a little smile. "Fuck, Harry."

Harry blinked at him. He pushed his arse back into it and watched fresh heat sear through Draco's eyes. They began moving together, working into a rhythm against one another. Draco's cock licked his insides, filling him so completely, and Harry felt his bollocks tighten on the verge of his orgasm. He shoved Draco's hand down between his legs, curling his fingers around his cock.

Draco gasped, his lips soft against Harry's hair, eyes closed. His fingers tested the weight of him, squeezed and tugged, moving the foreskin over the head.

Harry reached back to grasp Draco's hip while they rocked together. A ragged whine ripped from Harry's throat just before his cock shot warm come into Draco's moving fist. His arse clamped down around Draco's prick, and it felt so unmercifully good, Harry started moaning loudly, ramming back into it.

Draco met him. And when Harry had spent his climax, Draco bent him over, laid him out on the sleek surface, and took his hips, thrusting fervently into him, groaning his name. "Oh Harry fuck. Harry, I'm coming in you," only for it to become a wordless cry as he filled Harry with it, hot and slick and so good it made Harry's cock twitch again, splattering Draco's dresser with shiny, wet stripes.

Harry lifted his head and watched in the mirror, breathless and panting, as Draco's head fell back, exposing the long line of his swallowing throat and a beautiful groan eased passed his pliant lips, his cock buried deep for one last moment.

Draco lifted his head, eyes drowsy slits. He licked his lips and then grimaced as he pulled out. Harry pushed off the dresser as Draco tucked his cock away behind him. Harry began to do the same.

"That was..." Harry began.

Draco breathed a laugh. "Yeah."

Harry could feel the space between them wanting to close back up, to swallow the moment whole and leave everything empty again.

"Draco."

Draco drew his wand and unwarded the room. But before he could do anything as predictable as escape, Harry grabbed his arm and hauled him gently in, threading his fingers into Draco's hair and kissing him warm and deep.

Draco's breath bathed his face, his head tilting as he kissed Harry back, their tongues tender against one another.

Then Draco pulled back a little. He looked only slightly dishevelled, but it was enough to spark an inappropriate sense of pride in Harry.

"I'll see you out there," Draco said, a perfunctory dismissal if Harry had ever heard one. He'd be offended if he weren't practically glowing from how well-shagged he was.

"Sure," Harry said. He fixed his clothes as best as he could, giving himself a quick perusal in the mirror. Though all he saw in it now was the memory of their joined bodies.

Look at that. Look at us fucking.

Draco disappeared into his bathroom, closing and locking the door behind himself, and Harry took a deep breath, heading back out of the bedroom, into the hall on legs that felt like they'd bracketed a dragon's sides for a far-too-wild ride. He tried not to, but he found himself smiling slightly as he emerged into the brightness of the party once more.

*

He knew he was all lit up and tried to tamp it down.

Leave it to Hermione to see right through him.

"Hey," he said, sitting next to her on the sofa with Ron on her other side. Ginny and Pansy had left it in favour of standing around with Daphne and Millicent, the latter of whom must have shown up while... Well, shortly ago.

"You didn't," Hermione said.

"What?" Harry tried for his best blank face.

But she reared back a little, as though to see him from a more distant vantage point, getting the bigger picture of him. "Just now? Really?"

He was on the verge of scoffing but couldn't actually bring himself to gaslight his best friend.

"What happened?" she whispered, coming closer again.

Ron, oblivious, drank from his beer beside her and seemed to be watching Luna talk to a plant in the corner.

"You look thirsty," Harry said. "Get you another drink?"

She gave him a championship stare down. "I know you, Harry."

He sighed. "I know you too, Hermione. I need a drink."

He got up from the sofa, and Ron gave him a belated, "Hey, Harry."

Harry got himself a beer, taking a long cool drink while leaning on the kitchen island and watching the party go on. Draco had re-entered the living room, and Harry watched him smile at Pansy and Ginny. He looked like Harry felt, and that put a tiny knowing smile on Harry's lips. Draco looked into the kitchen and did a bit of a double-take at seeing Harry there. Draco's smile turned ever-so-slightly wicked, and then he turned away again and leaned in to speak with Blaise.

Food was served over the course of the evening, and Harry ate like he'd come in from a full day on the reserve. It was nothing so proper as a dinner party, and they all sat around with plates of easy finger foods, talking and laughing.

At some point, once everyone had eaten, and a fresh round of drinks made its way out, people started telling Pansy-and-Ginny stories.

The time Ginny wrote a story for the Prophet on changes in the Ministry hierarchy, and she interviewed Pansy, the undersecretary, and they'd got into a row so bad, Ginny's quill went up in flames.

The time they rowed at the pub and then ended it with their first snog in front of everyone.

The time Ginny asked Pansy to marry her by putting out a full-page ad in the paper.

Harry smiled and laughed with everyone else, but in truth, he hadn't been around for any of that. Some he'd heard secondhand and some he was only hearing for the first time tonight. His heart hurt a little at how much he'd missed. And yet, he couldn't be certain he'd have changed anything.

He looked up and found Draco smiling at the happy couple across the living room. He sat perched on the arm of a chair in which Luna sat, a ubiquitous water in his hand. He looked... so pleased for them, so enamoured even. His grey eyes twinkled under the lights, relaxed and at ease.

The room laughed at the new story being shared, something about Ginny and Pansy being caught skinny dipping in the Ministry pool late one night.

Draco's eyes danced between them, his smile broadening as he listened. He turned then, as though feeling Harry's regard, and his smile changed, shifted, became less vivacious, more secretive. They shared a look that had Harry's whole body remembering the strive of their fucking so vividly. He could almost hear the echo of the sounds they'd made. He was sore where he sat, and it looked like Draco probably knew that. But he wasn't a gloating kind of pleased. He looked... soaked through with satiation, calm.

He looked a little like Harry felt, like right now, in this moment, it didn't matter that neither of them knew what it was or where it would go. Any old wounds from adopting that very attitude in the past could be glossed over tonight and ignored. The peril was worth it. Tonight was worth anything.

The evening pressed on, lagged, became a reposed shadow of itself. People began filtering out, and Harry started realising he had a decision to make. Hermione and Ron had stood to go, so, swallowing down the very loud urge to stay and take Draco Malfoy to bed tonight, Harry instead obeyed the fatigue settling deep in his muscles and mind and followed his friends to the door.

"Going so soon?" Draco asked — ostensibly of all three of them, though his gaze lingered on Harry. And 'soon' was a laugh as it was late enough that they'd all need a lie in the next day. Hell, it was already a good hour into the next day technically, and none of them were kids anymore. One in the morning was hell on Harry's thirty-two year-old body the morning after.

Ron left as he entered, shaking Draco's hand. Hermione took his hand, and Draco surprised Harry by lifting hers and placing a kiss on her knuckles. "Granger, a pleasure."

Harry took a deep breath when it was his turn. He took Draco's hand, shaking it slowly and holding it a bit too long. "Thank you for having me."

Draco's lips twitched, and Harry simply stared him down for a moment that stretched into two.

He felt Hermione bristling with concern next to him, but for the life of him Harry couldn't be bothered to care. His thumb slid over the back of Draco's hand before he dropped it. "Goodnight," he said softly.

"Goodnight to you too, Potter."

Harry smiled, not sure if the name was somehow for Hermione's benefit, perhaps meant to throw her off the scent, which Draco must know was impossible at this point. But Harry smiled at it nonetheless and decided to rejoin. "Malfoy."

The door closed on their departure, and as they walked to the pavement to Apparate, Hermione cast a glance back at him. She seemed more worried than he would even expect.

"It's okay," he told her as they strolled.

"Is it?" she asked, frowning.

"Is what okay?" Ron asked.

She hugged his arm close to her body. "I'll tell you at home."

Harry scoffed behind them.

"He's my husband. I'll tell him what I please."

"It's nothing," Harry assured.

"It's never nothing with him," Hermione warned, her voice tinged with the sadness of a death knoll.

Then she turned to Ron and nodded.

"Night, Harry," Ron said. "And whatever trouble you're in, I'll get you sorted." He gave a confident nod, and both Harry and Hermione had to smile at it.

"Night, Harry," Hermione said, and then they side-alonged away.

Harry turned back to Draco's house to see that the door had shrunk down to a normal height. The lights inside had dimmed but not gone out. And he thought he saw a tall shadow move from the window as he watched.

It was only in retrospect, only now, that Harry flashed on what had happened in Draco's bedroom, seeing in his mind's eye the reflection of Draco's arm when he'd held Harry's hips and thrust into him.

The wink of green. Slither of tail. The open jaws and the ball of fire in its mouth.

The tattoo he'd had done to try to cover his Dark Mark was a dragon.

*

Harry got the lie in he needed the next morning and spent a few hours just reading his book by the light from his hotel room window. Reading, he'd found, helped him think. It sort of acted simultaneously as an escape and a reordering of his own thoughts, as though it relegated enough of his thinking away from the problem that the rooms of his mind left unattended could fill up with new ideas.

Not that Draco was, by definition, a problem. It was more that Harry felt he was.

Maynard kept him company, perched on the arm of the chair in which Harry sat. His presence reminded Harry of Hedwig in a lot of ways. Obviously, they were both owls. But not every owl enjoyed the company of humans in the daytime, instead preferring to sleep when they could in preparation for the night's hunt. Hedwig would often sit with him like this, though. It was as if she'd known he was new to the whole wizard thing and needed guidance, hand-holding. And as he had with Hedwig, Harry found himself slowly stroking Maynard's soft, feathered head as he read his book.

After Pansy got off work that early evening and Ginny turned in a polished draft of the piece she had due the next day, they met Harry to look at flower arrangements. The large garden they'd chosen sat well outside the city. The three of them, plus a late Neville who Apparated in on a swarm of apologies, meandered through its greenhouses, looking at magical hibiscus flowers that changed colour every few moments, Champagne roses that spouted actual Champagne, hydrangeas which came with their own collection of butterflies, lilies of all kinds.

Harry stopped at one, reaching out and running a finger over its petals. "I like this one," he told Ginny.

"Of course you would," she said, smiling. "That's a dragon lily."

"Huh."

"I like it too. I'll speak with Neville first and then check on pricing." She laid a hand on Harry's shoulder and then wandered away.

Harry found himself looking at the flower but then not really seeing it. His mind flashed quickly over numerous images — his mother, her hair, her smile; the reserve, Beatrice, had she laid her eggs? how was Charlie faring? Draco's tattoo...

It was all a jumble, and Harry let it be. He hadn't come to any startling discoveries over the morning, and he doubted he would now, staring at this flower. But he found himself hoping Ginny and Pansy would use it in their wedding. He found himself weirdly attached to the idea.

"Oi, Potter," Pansy's softly amused voice came from behind him as she advanced.

He turned and gave her a smile. Her hands were in the pockets of her trousers, the fabric of the legs billowing around. She looked like she'd stepped out of the 1930s. It was a good look on her, soft and commanding. She was a far cry from the young Slytherin who wanted to give him up to Voldemort. She hadn't wanted to, of course. She'd told him as much many years ago, and none of that needed rehashing. It was just that... looking at her now, the woman Ginny was to marry, he saw her as an amalgam of so many important changes that had all seamlessly coalesced. She looked so... ready. Although that was an odd way to put it. Harry simply saw how she'd not only let Ginny in and how that had changed things for her, but how she'd transfigured herself into, not a different person, but more of herself, it seemed.

"Are you nervous?" he asked out of the blue and saw her register that with a look of mild amusement.

"I'd have to say yes. I mean, of course." She came to stand beside him. "Of the silly things, though. Like, for instance, Blaise gets stupid pissed and says embarrassing shit in his toast. Like really, really embarrassing."

Harry laughed.

"Or I spill wine down my front while I'm trying to dance. Or the witch who marries us forgets our names and calls us Winnie and Parsnip." She shrugged. "I'm not nervous for the big stuff. The marriage."

"You're not?"

She gave him a funny, considering look. "What's on your mind, Harry?"

He looked around to see that Ginny and Neville were far too preoccupied with an ever-waving Asphodel to give them any care. "Can we... take a little walk?"

"Sure," Pansy said and let him lead her down a path between two rows of overflowing rose bushes.

It had only occurred to him in that moment: that maybe Pansy was the one he needed to talk to. She'd known Draco before, during, after. She was such a constant in his life, had seen so much, observed him over the years, in every sense been there. And yet, now that he had her ear, Harry felt his bravery leak out through the soles of his shoes in a way it hardly ever did with anything or anyone else.

"Do you ever wonder," he found himself musing aloud, "what things would have been like if you hadn't kissed her in that pub?"

She snorted. "I don't wonder. I know they'd be shit." She trailed her hand along a bunch of black roses. "Or I would have kissed her in some other pub after some other row on some other night. You know?"

"So you believe in fate then?"

"Hardly." She smiled at him. "I believe in persistence."

"Huh."

She laughed, leaning in to smell a pink rose. Somehow they'd wandered into the pink ones without Harry noticing.

"Merlin, you really aren't nervous, are you?" he observed.

"No," she said. "Because I know. Even when I'm unsure," she said, "I know."

"How?" Harry asked, his heart pushing up in his chest and threatening his throat. "How do you know?"

She stopped him with a light hand on his arm, and he turned to face her in a tunnel of fragrant blooms.

"You talk to each other. You listen. You spend the time. You don't run."

He gulped. "So simple."

"Yes, so alarmingly non-idiotic," she agreed with a roll of her eyes.

Then they were walking again. Although now Harry was having trouble feeling his own legs. They'd gone numb along with a good half of his brain. He suddenly wished he were with Ron instead. Ron had promised to get him sorted — which probably entailed alcohol or a game of chess or watching the telly or eating. He felt sure Ron's idea of sorting someone out had virtually nothing to do with talking.

"I didn't run, though," Harry heard himself say. "To Romania. It wasn't running."

"Well, what was it?"

Merlin, he was in his thirties now; he wasn't a twenty year-old arsehole. Surely he should have a ready answer for her question. So why the hell wasn't one forthcoming? How on bloody earth could he have spent the last twelve years of his life somewhere, doing something, and not know what it meant, what it had been for?

"I enjoy working with the dragons," he said, feeling his way through. "And I needed... I think I needed to get away for a while. Isn't that enough?"

"You don't have to justify it to me."

"Well, you just asked me to define it, to explain it." Harry stopped again on the path, frustrated with the turn their talk had taken and feeling foolish, since he was the one that had initiated it in the first place.

"For you, not for me," Pansy said. "Look, Harry, you've got four more weeks to figure it out. You don't have to have some sort of rosebush epiphany."

Four weeks. "And then what?"

She gave him a bemused look. "That is the question."

"Pans!" Ginny called from somewhere in the vicinity, her voice skirting leaves and thorns to reach them where they stood staring at each other.

Pansy turned and made to walk away.

"Wait!" Harry called as she was about to re-enter the tunnel of roses. "Just... tell me something about him, would you? Tell me something real."

Pansy called to Ginny, "Just a minute, honey!" and then walked back over to Harry. She considered for a long moment. Then she took a deep breath. "Seventh year, Draco hexed Theo for calling Greg a fat fuckwit. He hexed him hard enough that Theo was in hospital for a week. And not a cushy, oh he doesn't have to do his History of Magic homework and can avoid the Carrows sort of week. It was bad."

Harry swallowed, his head swimming with this new information. "Why didn't I hear about that?"

"Professor Snape covered it up. Plus, you were off saving the bloody world or don't you remember?"

He remembered all too vividly. And he knew there was a lot he still didn't know about what it had been like back at Hogwarts all that time. What they'd all gone through together.

Except... He shook his head. "Wait, that's a good story?"

"You didn't ask for good," Pansy said, her expression serious, looking straight into him. "You asked for real, Potter. That's real."

She walked away, disappearing around a corner and leaving Harry stunned, banked by red roses, the sun streaming down through the greenhouse roof and pooling light all around him.

*

Harry ate his dinner at the gyro van down the street from his hotel. He was coming to get hooked on it. He didn't care how difficult eating baba ganoush on a park bench was; it was worth it.

The sun was setting as he got back. Harry touched the wand in his pocket and walked through the Disillusionment charms and into the lobby of the hotel. He took the lift up to his floor, popping his neck as he waited and sighing a quiet groan.

He stepped out on his floor, turning the corner down the hall, and then stopped short.

Draco Malfoy leaned next to Harry's door, waiting for him. Harry's breath momentarily stopped. Questions zoomed through his head: How did Draco know where to find him? Stupid because Ginny and Pansy knew; Hermione and Ron knew. It wouldn't take an interrogation to get the info out of any of them. But why had he come? How long had he been waiting? And for Merlin's sake, why did he have to be so fucking beautiful, standing there in grey trousers and a silky sky-blue button up that left his throat exposed?

He must have heard it when Harry finally decided to exhale, because Draco turned his head, and they looked at each other.

Harry approached, and Draco pushed himself off from where he'd leaned, watching.

Harry thought of a million things to say. Hello was even one of them. But as he neared, and he looked into Draco's eyes, it all seemed a bit superfluous. Like it would do more damage than good.

He touched his wand, unlocking the door, and when he pushed inside, Draco followed him in. Harry could feel the heat coming off his body, hear the measured breaths he took.

Once Draco had shut the door behind himself, Harry turned and pushed him up against it with a loud thunk. Then they were kissing, lips open and hungry on one another, hands pulling at clothes, groping, hauling closer. Harry's hands worked quickly at Draco's belt, his trousers, and then at his own as Draco pulled his own cock free. It was ruddy pink and glistening, more than half-hard, and it pulled up harder as Harry looked down at it.

Harry shoved his pants beneath his bollocks and then pressed into Draco's body. Their pricks touched, and Harry thrust against him once with a little grunt. Draco reached for him, but Harry took his wrists and pinned them roughly to the door over his head. He thrust repeatedly now, their lips so close they could feel each other's breath.

Harry watched Draco's lips pull into a seductive smile. His wrists flexed in Harry's hands, hips rolling to meet Harry's.

Moments later though, Draco wrenched free and grabbed Harry closer, forcing it harder and faster, their bodies banging against the door. He kissed Harry viciously, and they both groaned. Harry's cock veered off of Draco's, and he fumbled between them while they kissed to realign them. Draco moaned into his mouth once they slid together once more.

Harry grabbed Draco's arse in his nice trousers, the kiss breaking, his mouth descending to the side of Draco's long neck. He licked and sucked there, and his hips bucked, rubbing them together.

He heard Draco panting. He scraped his teeth over Draco's arched throat, and then warm come shot between them as Draco climaxed, his hands gripping Harry's waist, hips striving away from the door for more, and then more.

"Fuck," Harry breathed against his jaw, kissing it. "Fuck," he whispered, angling his head and kissing Draco again.

Draco sagged against the door, a low huff of a laugh escaping against Harry's mouth, breaking the lazy kiss.

"I see you correctly sussed out why I'm here," he breathed. "Should have been an Auror, Potter."

"What, just because I know sex on legs when I see it leaned against my door?"

Draco laughed again. "Was I that obvious?"

"Shut up, I'm still hard here." Harry wrapped a hand around his own cock and started tugging, but Draco captured his wrist.

"Strip and get on the bed, Harry. I want to eat your arse."

Harry may have gasped a little at that. His knees might have weakened on him slightly. He let Draco's hands slip under the hem of his shirt and then grasp it, pulling it off over his head.

Harry backed away, kicking off his shoes and taking down his jeans and pants, tugging off his socks. When he was naked, he stood straight again and asked, "How do you want me?"

To his satisfaction, Draco's eyes had dilated so intensely they were nearly black. "On your hands and knees."

Harry looked down Draco's body to see that his flaccid cock was already trying to twitch back to life. Smiling, Harry climbed onto the bed, tossing his glasses in the vicinity of the nightstand, and facing away as Draco had implicitly requested. His breath trembled through him, waiting for it. He exhaled when Draco's warm hands smoothed over his arse, squeezing and then parting him. Harry dropped his head down. And then Draco leaned in, breathed an appreciative hum over his opening, and then took a slow, exploratory lap at him.

A whine started in Harry's throat and turned to a groan as it passed his lips.

"Are you still sore from my cock?" Draco asked silkily.

"Oh fuck you."

"Is that a yes?"

"Yes that's a yes."

"Well, I'll be sure to be gentle, Potter. When I tongue-fuck you."

"Will you just shut the fuck up and—ohh!"

Draco licked sweetly over Harry's hole, the motion of his tongue making small wet sounds in the quiet room — which Harry then obliterated with his groaning. Merlin, it was good. Too good. Harry spread his knees for it, his hands balling into fists in the bedding.

Draco held him open with his aristocratic hands and used his lips now too, kissing Harry's arse with both care and hunger. He seemed to be harnessing his magic, deliberately holding off, slowing the kiss and moaning into it. Harry let his hole relax enough — because he recalled just how Draco liked to do this. He knew just how he himself wanted it... how it had been before. Harry willed himself to relax — and then Draco was licking just inside his rim, the warm flame of his tongue tickling all Harry's oversensitised nerve-endings.

"Oh God," Harry cried out, laying his upper body down on the bed. He couldn't help himself and began undulating back into Draco's hot mouth, feeling Draco's tongue pierce the ring of muscle at the apex of each roll of his hips. "Oh God."

Harry reached between his legs, his hand a ridiculous blur on his cock, and he came in just seconds, his arse fluttering against Draco's now-smiling lips — Harry could feel him smiling — until the orgasm itself took over and his body jerked away, and he thrust into his own fist, crying out with each pulse of his cock.

Draco's hands remained on his arse, stroking him. He rose up from where he'd been bent over? kneeling? Harry couldn't be sure, and he hardly cared.

Harry flopped over onto his back with a groan when he was finished and saw Draco standing there at the foot of the bed, smiling this beautiful fucking smile, like he was proud and impressed all at once. How he managed sweet and smug simultaneously, Harry couldn't know.

"I was going to ride that thick cock of yours, but you just had to bloody come all over the bed, didn't you?"

Harry scoffed. "You love it when I come from you rimming me."

Harry said it before he thought, and a sickening heat spread through his chest even as he also observed, in Draco's eyes, a flash of recognition, of both heat and pain. But it passed, and then a moment later, the soft swagger was back.

"I can get a piece of your prick later, I suppose."

Harry's newly-sated body thrilled to the idea.

"Take your bloody clothes off and get in the bed," Harry ordered.

And he thrilled still more when, without a word, Draco began unbuttoning his pretty blue shirt.

*

They'd tussled for a while. It couldn't be called sex, not even with the way they fondled one another's bits. It wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't supposed to. There was something wonderful about that to Harry. He'd never done this with anyone else, where the business of touching and kissing won out over the desire to come.

They got lazy about it, and Harry wound up lying with his head in the crook of Draco's right arm. Draco's hand would drop into his hair, pull gently, thread, and then release it, only to repeat the gesture at a slothly pace. Messing about had now turned to a sort of reflection, a less stable form of togetherness, and though Harry liked it, wanted it, he found himself afraid it could shatter if he breathed wrong.

Still, he ended up asking, "May I see it? Your arm?"

Draco held his left arm aloft for Harry's viewing, making a loose fist as he waited through the appraisal. But Harry wasn't content to just look at it from there, and he took Draco's arm, bringing it closer to his face and forcing Draco to turn a bit on his side. Draco huffed with annoyance but shifted around regardless.

"A Welsh green," Harry marvelled. The body of the dragon coiled protectively around the centre of the tattoo, the part that used to be the skull. "It's an egg!" Harry blurted, so pleased with the realisation and the very idea that his face split in a smile. "They made an egg of it. That's genius."

"She's sleeping now, but every once in awhile, when she's awake, she lifts her head and spits fire in order to keep her egg safe."

"Did you think of that, then? The egg and such?"

"It was a joint effort."

"You and the tattoo artist?"

"And Granger," Draco said, resulting in Harry's brain short-circuiting.

"What?" Harry lowered Draco's arm, his gaze now finding Draco's face instead.

"I assumed she would have told you." Draco was frowning slightly now, uncomfortable.

Harry pulled back just a little to see his face better. It didn't make any sense. "She went with you? To get this?"

"It was her idea," Draco said. "After we had our big..." He gestured in the air, "talk."

"You had a big talk?"

"Of course."

"Of course?"

"Have you been cursed to repeat everything I say? If that's the case, I've been wasting time here. Repeat after me: 'You have the most delicious cock, and I want to suck it all n—'"

Harry shoved him. "I just... I don't understand. She never told me about any of this. When?"

And now Draco looked really uncomfortable. He sat up, forcing Harry to move off his arm to let him. Harry stared at his back, the long, smooth line of him, and felt his heart hammering.

"I think you should ask her," Draco said carefully.

"Bloody hell." Harry sat up next to him. "She's obviously seen fit to tell me exactly nothing, so I'm asking you, Draco."

Draco sighed. He looked at Harry, measuring the choice. And then he spoke. "I went to her and I apologised. For everything, but especially—" He broke off, his jaw going stiff and sharp, and Harry tried not to get distracted by how handsome a man he made now. "I needed to tell her I was sorry I'd... called her that."

"Mud...?"

"Yeah."

"So, I'm assuming she accepted your apology rather than punch you in the face."

Draco smirked sadly. "Yes. She did. I think she felt a bit sorry for me, honestly. I wasn't drunk when I went to see her, but I probably stank from the night before."

"I see," Harry said.

Though he didn't see. He didn't see why Hermione had not Owled him about it. Why she hadn't Floo-called. Why she'd never even mentioned it when he visited those first Christmases. She'd had every opportunity, and yet she'd almost never even brought Draco's name up to Harry, much less talked about this. Had Harry been that bad of a friend to her? That she couldn't trust him with this information? Had she felt she couldn't say anything? Had Draco asked her not to?

"So, how does that translate to...?" Harry gave a nod toward Draco's arm.

"It was a couple weeks later, I guess. She Owled that she was going to have hers done, and would I like to come along."

Harry blinked once, like staring at Draco's face might help reorder the unhelpful words in his mind. "Hers done?"

Draco sighed, dropping his head into his hands. "You see, I told you to talk to her instead. I thought you Gryffindor twats were all open and honest with one another."

"That's Hufflepuffs," Harry said, though the joke fell flat from his lips. He felt like his stomach was on the floor. Under a manky boot.

Draco fell to his back into the mattress again, and Harry turned to look down at him.

"I never should have said anything," Draco said softly. He looked guilty, which was something Harry was not used to seeing on him.

"No, you had to say something or I might have hexed you."

Draco's lips twitched a little at that, and Harry felt his own curve up some. They sat like that for a while, observing one another's silence. Though Harry's felt loud. If he'd understood correctly, Hermione Granger had gone to get tattoos with Draco Malfoy. It was... barmy. Ridiculous. Wonderful and mad. And Harry felt an ache in his very bones, in his soul, not to have been there for that. His chest panged with the thought that perhaps even if he had been, they might not have included him even after the fact.

But bloody hell, if he'd been here, he would have seen it! Here Hermione had done this important thing, with Draco, and not even told Harry about it.

"Harry," Draco said quietly.

When Harry focused his eyes and looked at him, Draco crooked his finger.

Harry sighed and lay back down, his head fitting back into the bend of Draco's arm like it had before.

"It's getting dark," Draco observed.

The Lumos that Harry had lit sometime after the rimming but before the talking was ebbing a bit, and it was becoming apparent that it was now full night.

"Do you want me to go?" Draco seemed to hold his breath upon asking it.

"No." It was an easy answer. Way, way too easy.

"Good, because I got three hours of sleep last night and I'd probably Splinch myself if I tried to Apparate home."

"Will your Kneazles be okay?"

Once again, Draco's hand was sifting slowly through Harry's hair. "Mm," he grunted in the affirmative, already unconsciousness-bound.

They lay like that until the light died out entirely. Harry took a chance — he could be braver in the dark — and turned into Draco's side, situating his leg between Draco's and resting a hand on his chest.

Draco rumbled a little, squirming a touch, and then settled, his arm now curled around Harry's shoulders.

Minutes later, when Harry had assumed he was asleep, Draco suddenly spoke, though he mumbled in his exhaustion. "Do you ever actually ride the dragons?"

Harry felt Draco's nipple poking into the palm of his hand, pressed tighter there with his every breath. He marvelled at the impossible warmth of Draco's skin.

"Sure. Sometimes."

"Seriously?" Draco didn't move, but there was a lifted-eyebrow-ness to his voice.

Harry smiled. "Yes, seriously."

"Fuck," Draco said. "That's bloody hot, Potter."

And then, in moments, he was fast asleep.

*

Harry woke sometime pre-dawn to the image of Draco's darkened silhouette against indigo window panes, the drapes pulled back and showing an underbelly of moon. Maynard sat on the arm of the chair by the window, quietly keeping Draco company.

Harry blinked and rubbed his eyes. He reached for his glasses on the nightstand and shoved them onto his face. Then he just stared.

Draco's bare back was to the room, his hands sunk into the pockets of... Harry's jeans? They were most definitely Harry's jeans. And Draco was wearing them. For a moment, Harry wondered if he was still asleep and dreaming. Then one of Draco's hands emerged from a pocket, reached out, and pet Maynard's head.

Harry gulped. "Hey."

Draco's head turned slightly. "Did I wake you? I let this owl in. He seems to believe he has the correct room."

"I— Yes, that's Maynard."

"Yours?" Draco asked as his hand smoothed over the owl's closed eyes. Maynard looked like he might go into a trance and fall over onto the floor talons up, he was so blissed out.

"No, a rental."

"Mm."

"You're wearing my jeans," Harry blurted.

"What of it, Potter?"

"Well, I—" Harry swallowed. "You look really good in them."

Draco's lips curved up a little before he turned his face back to the window, his hand dropping away from Maynard's feathers. It was true, although Harry's jeans didn't fit him at all. Even that was attractive though, as they hung so low on Draco's slimmer hips that they were practically indecent. They'd be even more so from the front. Harry found himself licking his lips. He wanted to ask Draco why he'd slung them on in the first place, if he had some sort of weird modesty around owls he didn't know.

But he held his tongue and slipped out of bed, padding over to where Draco stood. This time when Draco turned to look at him, his attention lingered. Harry was still naked, and Draco let himself take in every inch of Harry's skin. It made Harry want to shiver in a wonderful way.

Draco turned, reached out, and stoked his hands up Harry's arms, over his biceps and the sturdiness of his shoulders, and then back down, gripping Harry's upper arms, thumbs smoothing over the muscles. He exhaled a little, the sound barely audible, and a slight smile twitched at his mouth.

In the next moment, though, a sadness developed in his eyes. One hand went to the scar on Harry's neck. His palm was warm, and Harry wanted to lean into his touch.

"Twelve years," Draco whispered haltingly.

The words were like knives slipped between Harry's ribs, pushed in just so.

Their gazes met, and Harry felt the horrible tightening in his throat at seeing the emotion in Draco's eyes. "I... Draco, I—"

"Not tonight," Draco said. "I shouldn't have... I don't want to do this tonight."

Harry wanted to ask what it was he didn't want to do. All Harry wanted to do was stop time.

"What do you want?" Harry asked.

Draco's hand slipped behind and cradled his skull, and he dragged Harry in. But to Harry's surprise, Draco didn't kiss him. Instead, he pulled Harry into a tight embrace, their bodies flush. Harry could feel Draco's heart beating against his chest. And Draco just held him there, tightly, breathing into Harry's hair. Harry wrapped his arms around Draco, his sleek back, finding the bony protrusion of his shoulder blade, the dip in his lower back, the little dimples there, before the interruption of old denim.

They breathed together. And one of Draco's breaths carried his name. "Harry..."

Draco turned his head, lips finding the side of Harry's neck and kissing him. Then he lifted his head, took Harry's face in his hands, and kissed his lips. It was soft and sweet at first, before Draco parted his lips, and Harry did too, and then it was deep and wet and slow, and Harry sighed, his cock beginning to rise against Draco's thigh.

"Mmm," Draco groaned into his mouth.

Harry licked inside, and Draco let himself be kissed for a few moments... let Harry control it. Harry reached between them and unbuttoned the flies of his jeans, feeling that Draco was hard beneath. He wasn't wearing pants, and when Harry's fingers brushed his cock, Draco made a fist in Harry's hair and pushed his tongue hard into Harry's mouth. Harry's cock sprang up for it, and he whined.

He broke the kiss, meeting Draco's eyes, and then he dipped his head and pressed a kiss onto Draco's chest. He kissed his tensing abdomen as he sank to his knees, chancing a look up at Draco's face looking down at him with unmasked want, and then Harry moved the flaps of denim out of the way so that Draco's cock could fall free. Harry took it in his hand, pumped it in his fist and watched a pearl of liquid form at the slit. He looked up at Draco. Draco stroked his hand over Harry's head. And Harry leaned in and sucked Draco's cock into his mouth.

Draco gasped, the hand in Harry's hair reflexively tightening once.

Harry swirled his tongue around the head, the slit, unable to stop the open-mouthed groan from tumbling from his lips before he covered his teeth and bobbed his head slowly on Draco's dick.

Draco whined softly above him, turning his face toward the window, as if it hurt to watch Harry do it. But then his chin dropped again, and he watched almost avidly after that. Harry glanced up at him from the floor, and when he saw the naked lust on Draco's face, he moved his mouth faster, took Draco's velvety cock deeper, groaning.

Draco's hand moved tenderly over his head again, and his hips began pulsing lightly, meeting the rootward descent of Harry's mouth.

"Oh fuck," Draco murmured. His graceful hand moved to cup the back of Harry's neck, his fingers warm as they tightened.

In the background, but nearby, Maynard suddenly gave a little hoot, and Harry couldn't help the small laugh that came out around Draco's cock.

He looked up to see the corner of Draco's lips lift in a wry smile. He chuckled a little, and Harry breathed another soft laugh in answer.

"Fuck, that feels good." Draco smiled wickedly.

Harry held his cock and sucked off. "Well, I'm not laughing through this entire blow job if that's what you're after now, you wanker." He tongued the head, gazing up at Draco. They smiled at one another, Draco and then Harry, and Harry's heart felt like it swelled in his chest.

He smothered his smile, going down on Draco once more. He wormed his hands into the jeans only resisting gravity by catching on Draco's wide stance, and held Draco's hips, his thumbs brushing through the pubic hair close to his cock. Draco whimpered for it. Harry then slipped his hands around to cup Draco's again-pumping arse, fingers fitting into that nearly too-soft crease beneath each cheek. Draco suddenly gripped the top of Harry's hair and thrust. Harry's glasses went crooked on his face, knocked out of place, and then Draco was coming in his mouth, a long, ragged groan tumbling from his lips.

Harry swallowed, squeezing Draco's arse, bobbing his head, and when Draco had finished on a great, shaky exhale, Harry pushed his glasses back into place as he backed off, leaving two, and then three, open-mouthed kisses to the head of Draco's cock.

"I'm sorry I knocked your glasses off," Draco panted.

"You should be." Harry grinned up at him, a smile which Draco returned.

Draco pushed the jeans down the rest of the way and stepped out of them. He turned and closed the drapes, shutting out the light from the moon, and in the dark he took Harry's hand, helping him rise and then leading him back to the bed.

"Your turn?" Draco asked.

And as much as he knew he'd love Draco's mouth between his legs, Harry felt ravaged by exhaustion suddenly, and the feel of the bed as he lay in it made him groan with a different kind of pleasure. He pulled Draco close, their limbs wrapping around and through and betwixt one another. Harry sighed. "This."

Draco leaned in and kissed him, that same sweet and gentle kiss they'd begun with before. "This," he said against Harry's lips quietly.

They kissed some more, until the space between kisses grew. Then Draco turned in Harry's arms, his arse settling back into Harry's crotch as he gave an unabashed sigh. Harry buried his face against Draco's back and fell asleep.

*

Draco left for work early the next morning after a lightning fast shower. Harry had wanted to join him in there, but with the morning's arrival had come an added and uncomfortable solemnity, and so he'd listened to the sounds of the water splashing, and then the faucet shutting off, the pipes in the walls whining, before Draco emerged, dressed and put together.

He'd stalked over matter-of-factly and kissed Harry's cheek. "See you later."

"Yeah," Harry said, watching him walk out and shut the door behind himself.

He felt the print of Draco's lips tingling on his skin and wanted to relish the easy intimacy of it. Part of it had felt easy, like something they could just pick up and do. But Harry had the sense that he was also waiting for a second shoe to drop, and he wasn't even sure whose foot it might fall from, Draco's or his own. The kiss had felt like a lie, albeit a pleasant one to live with. It was a picture of them never drawn, a blatantly unsuccessful version of playing pretend but one Draco seemed willing to indulge in regardless of the outcome.

And that was it really: The overwhelming feeling that Harry got was that Draco assumed this would all be over after the wedding, that this was all they'd get. And he wanted to kiss Harry like that, like they were together, anyway.

In the wake of it, Harry didn't know much. All he knew was that he needed to see Hermione. He scribbled out a note.

Need to come over and talk at your convenience. I'm meeting Gin at the venue at 6pm, so before? after? tomorrow?

Thanks,

Harry

p.s. Do you have any alcohol on hand?

Harry treated Maynard with some of the pellets provided by the hotel but then resolved to pick him up something better while he was out.

He pet the owl while it chewed. "Did you like that man? Hmm? Do you like Malfoy?"

Maynard crunched his treats, unanswering.

"Me too," Harry sighed. Then he gave the owl his post and let him out through the window.

Harry grabbed a quick bite at a coffee shop nearby, throwing back a double shot of espresso with cream, and then decided to go for a run.

He felt stiff and sedentary having not been on the reserve in two weeks now. His body had already begun to feel the effects of inertia and atrophy, the subtle lassitude of unworked muscles, and he resolved to reawaken them.

He jogged along the pavement by the river, stopping to enjoy the view when he ran short of breath. He let his mind wander and found himself trying to remember the last time he'd taken a class in Duelling. He decided he needed to rectify the long absence, as there was nothing better for working out one's crap than getting into a rough and tumble duel.

He'd ask Charlie if he knew of any good duelling practices in Romania, he thought. And then he stopped short. The idea of being back on the reserve, back home, now left him feeling confused as London pressed in on him. Harry breathed in the smell of the water, the almost imperceptible scent of the sun warming stone. A horn honked on a distant street. It wasn't that Romania suddenly didn't feel like his home. It just wasn't alone in that category anymore. The idea of being back there struck him as both a relief and impossibly lonely.

Harry ran back to the hotel, pushing himself to keep going without stopping. Still panting when he arrived back in his room, he Aguamenti'd straight into his mouth, then filled a large glass after he'd quenched the immediate thirst.

He stripped and stepped into the shower, lathering up, cleansing himself of the layer of sweat and city fumes he'd accumulated. He couldn't not think of Draco in the shower though; it was like a Pavlovian response. But instead of taking a firm grip on his cock, Harry heard Draco in his mind:

Twelve years.

The ache in his voice. The way they'd glossed over it with more sex. Harry didn't want to think about how that sound of ache felt familiar, how it lived in him as well. Harry had somehow successfully masked his pain over the loss of him, minimising it into something he could deal with, or rather attempt to ignore, on a daily basis. Yet here, now, it had all rushed back in like Fiendfyre.

"Fuck," he muttered, ducking his head under the water and letting the soap and dirt wash off his skin.

He was a bloody mess, even clean.

Harry dressed, and when he emerged from the bathroom, Maynard was back, sitting on the sill patiently and bearing Hermione's response.

Dearest Harry, the return note read.

Come over tonight! We'd love to see you. We have a fully-stocked bar, and we'll make you dinner. Ron wants wizarding chess, but I told him tonight is not the time. Just whenever you're free after seeing Ginny. Our Floo is always open to you.

Love,

Us

Relief flooded Harry's body, and he sagged into the armchair, reading the note a second time and then staring out at the city and losing himself in its memories.

*

The wedding 'space' looked like an abandoned but well-maintained castle, albeit a small one. It reminded Harry of Hogwarts in miniature. He wasn't sure why he'd been picturing something modern, something square with low ceilings, something boring. Draco was never boring, and though he'd adopted some Muggle dress, there was still so much about him that boasted millennia of wizarding tradition.

The place where Ginny and Pansy were to be married was all soaring stone buttresses, vaulted airy ceilings, and floating candles. It was also three Apparition hops away in the Welsh countryside and thus had left Harry feeling slightly out of sorts for the first few moments of his arrival.

"Oh, Harry, I think this is the spot for the ceremony. Under this arch? What do you think?" Ginny asked.

They'd been let in not by Draco but by the good-looking brown-haired man from the Leaky that night. He introduced himself as the curator of the building, which apparently had some sort of storied and rich history that Harry couldn't really care any less about; he had been too busy reordering the memory of that night at the pub in his head and realising that this person, Patrick, he was called, had likely not been Draco's date. Not that it had even looked like a date at the time. But Harry had felt a pre-emptive anger at this poor bloke regardless.

"Did you hear me, Harry? Why do you look guilty? What did you do?"

He snorted. "Nothing. I didn't realise— I think the archway would be perfect."

She smiled. "The dragon lilies will go beautifully here."

They talked flowers and silver candles and music and seating, and it was then that the large double doors opened again, and Draco appeared, walking forward with a confident clip across the stone.

"Sorry I'm late," he said, giving Ginny's cheek a kiss and then sparing Harry a glance. "I got held up at my last appointment. You were talking about the seating?"

Harry listened to them — benches vs. chairs, fabrics, arrangement, etc. — and it wasn't that Harry didn't care. It was only that the light caught in Draco's hair and shone against it, and when he listened to Ginny, nodding, a strand fell into his eyes, and he tucked it back unthinkingly, and he was so beautiful it actually hurt.

"Harry, do you think that's enough?" Ginny asked.

"Hmm?"

"Chairs," she elaborated.

Harry was achingly aware that Draco's eyes were on him now. "I'd throw in ten more." He had no idea how many they'd been talking about in the first place, but he figured no matter what, ten more chairs couldn't hurt. Ginny was a Weasley after all.

Draco whipped out his pad, snapping his fingers for his quill, and began jotting down details. Harry made himself look around the room instead of at the way Draco's jaw worked slightly back and forth while he wrote. He also all too readily wanted to picture Draco in nothing but Harry's own jeans, the dirty blond tufts of his pubic hair peeking over the top of the fly, they sat so low on him.

"Can I see the outside?" Ginny asked. "I'll need to get measurements for the reception tent."

"Sure. Right this way." Draco held out an arm to let Ginny precede him, but she hesitated.

"Could Patrick show me instead? I'm sure he knows a lot about the history and such."

"Oh. Um, yes." Draco pulled his wand and appeared about to cast when he seemed to think better of it and simply shouted, "Patrick!"

Patrick came at a half-run.

"Would you please show Ms Weasley the grounds and answer any questions she has?" Draco requested.

"Certainly, Mr Malfoy," said Patrick.

Ginny gave Harry a bit of a glance on her way out, and he would have rolled his eyes at her utter lack of any kind of subterfuge, but that would have only drawn even more attention to the obvious ruse to get him and Draco alone.

"So," Harry said when the others had exited, the doors banging shut behind them with an apt-feeling finality. "This is a really nice place."

"Thanks," Draco said. "Would you like to see the rest of it?"

"Yeah. Uh, why not?" Harry then had the not all that surprising thought that there must be a million places to shag in a building like this.

Draco pushed his hands into his trouser pockets and then, with Harry at his side, wandered out of the large room and into one off the side.

"This library was donated by a collection of families, including the Greengrasses and Zabinis," Draco said as they entered a long hall of a room, bordered on both sides by towering bookshelves. Above the shelves at the far side sat large windows through which streams of light poured down, bathing sofas, chairs, and tables scattered around the centre of the room.

"Wow," Harry said as they wandered through ephemeral diagonals of fine dust. Although perhaps Luna would have said it was wrackspurts. It wouldn't have been surprising due to how discombobulated Harry felt around Draco.

"I've hired Madam Pince to work here over the summers. She's still at Hogwarts, did you know?"

Harry scoffed, "No. Isn't she, what, two hundred and twelve years old now?"

Draco succumbed to a little smirk. "She's probably not a day over one seventy-five, Potter."

Harry smiled at him, and Draco returned it before they each looked away.

"It's a really lovely place," Harry said. "How long have you had it?"

"This one? Going on... eight years, I believe."

"That's a long time."

Draco sighed softly. "Yes."

"You've done really well for yourself," Harry conceded and hoped it didn't sound condescending. It was definitely not how he meant it. "You've really..." He searched for the words with the right meaning. "...created something. Something good."

Draco suddenly stopped walking, and Harry turned to face him.

"I know," Draco said, a seriousness in his expression that wasn't there before. The stubborn jut of his chin became slightly more so. "I know that."

"Well, I didn't mean to imply that you needed my validation, Draco, it's just—"

"But I did," Draco said, and Harry frowned, not comprehending. "For a long time, I did need your validation. I wanted it. So bloody much."

Harry felt his lips part, the air in his lungs not quite adequate to the task.

"You know," Draco said, "I'm not even angry at you. I... I became all these things for you. To try to make you see me." He shook his head, and Harry felt a great hole within himself, black and suffocating. "But now they're mine. They're my life," Draco said. "I did this. You're right. And in a strange way, you gave that to me. Because you never looked back. And what I'd made was all I had."

Harry felt his eyes having gone wider. He felt Stunned, glued to this one little spot on the floor.

"It's mine," Draco said again. "It's good. And you're not a part of it, Harry."

The words hit him like a blow. Not the magical kind, but the more personal effort of smacking your fist into someone else's injurible flesh.

He said the stupidest thing of all then, not made any less stupid for it having been true. "I didn't think that you cared."

A mirthless laugh left Draco's lips. For the first time, Harry saw how wet his eyes were, and yet no tears had fallen, as though by the sheer strength of his will.

"You're inside me," Draco said then.

Harry stood there and gawped pathetically, destroyed but somehow still standing.

"You know, I thought I could do this. I wanted to. I still want to, damn it," Draco admitted. "But I don't think I can just wait around for this to implode like—"

He stopped abruptly, but Harry could easily fill in the rest. Like last time.

Draco shook his head slightly. "It's been good seeing you, Harry."

Draco turned around and began to stride away.

"Pansy told me I didn't have to have a rosebush epiphany!" Harry called after him. It was absolutely the barmiest thing he could say, of course, but he had to say something, and nothing else was forthcoming.

Draco stopped, and his head turned slightly. Harry could make out the frown, the bemusement, that sat on his brow. "What the bloody hell does that mean?"

"It means," Harry began. He sighed. "It means I haven't made up my mind."

It sounded so insultingly lukewarm, and yet how could he know at this point? This was his whole life; this was changing everything in it. It was actually only right at that very moment that Harry realised he was even considering it... blowing everything up and rebuilding. For Draco.

"Would you please turn around?" Harry asked.

"If I turn around, I'm going to kiss you." The yearning in it echoed in every part of Harry's body.

"I want to kiss you, Draco."

"I know," Draco said. "I want to kiss you too."

Then, with greater finality than the shutting of any door, the effect of any spell, Draco simply strode out of the room.