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Three Boxes and a Scrapbook

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It was strange how an entire year of someone’s life could be packed away in three boxes. Not for the first time, Harry’s eyes drifted over to them. Three boxes. Just three. Stacked neatly in his living room, tucked away in a corner lest someone should stumble over them.

Harry stared intently at them, inexplicably determined to imprint them into his memory. He didn’t know why. He just…had to remember them. He had to remember how they looked.

Beige. Unremarkable. Dull.

Boxes that were so entirely unrepresentative of the year they contained inside them, it made him angry — which was ridiculous because after everything Harry had been through, he should’ve been happy or relieved or literally anything but angry that it was finally over.

Still, Harry stared at the boxes. And he couldn’t help but feel that as stressful and tumultuous and insane as the year had been, it deserved better than to be packed away in those boring boxes.

It wasn’t right.

It just wasn’t and he didn’t know why, but…

“I’m all done.”

The quiet voice behind him pulled him out of his musings. Harry tried very hard not to think about how this was the last time he’d be hearing that voice. Instead, he turned around to face Draco.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Got your Portkey ready? All your documents?”

Draco took a deep breath, as if steeling himself for something. But when he spoke, his voice was dispassionate. Almost bored. “Everything’s taken care of. I just need to take my stuff and I’ll be out of your hair.”

As if on cue, their eyes travelled back to the boxes. Harry’s fists clenched and he didn’t know why. “Well, that’s it,” he said finally, gesturing at them. “All your stuff is in there.”

Draco nodded again, his grey eyes focused on the small pile. “Doesn’t look like much, does it?”

No, it didn’t. It would be easy to…stick the boxes in a corner and forget about them. Draco would have no trouble with them cluttering up his new home.

That was a good thing.

“You’re finally moving to Paris,” Harry said, more in an effort to fill the silence than anything. Draco averted his gaze and nodded stiffly in response, turning to fidget with some papers again. Harry’s shoulders slumped. Of course, there was no need for conversation now. Still, a small part of him had hoped that they could at least keep in touch. Be friends or…something.

Apparently not.

“Here are my keys,” Draco broke the silence suddenly, placing them on the table with a soft clink. “Oh, and I owled The Quidditch Enquirer. They’ll cancel my subscription next month.”

That was a shame. Harry had grown to like The Quidditch Enquirer.

“I’ll have Pansy pick up my books sometime next week,” Draco went on, apparently on an organizational roll. He did that sometimes. Harry smiled despite himself.

“…and remember, you have to meet Bill Weasley later this week about splitting our accounts. And you need to water the plants. And don’t forget to…”

“Draco, stop,” Harry grinned, finally managing to get a word in. “I got along without your nagging for this long, didn’t I? I’ll be fine.”

“Merlin knows how,” Draco muttered, but a smile tugged at his lips anyway. “Take care of yourself, Potter. I’ve grown passing fond of you.”

Not fond enough to stay, apparently. But it was something.

“I will,” Harry promised. “Is there anything else?”

“Just one thing,” Draco replied softly. His eyes never left Harry as he placed the sheaf of papers on the table. Harry swallowed as he recognized the Ministry’s seal on the official documents.

“You’ll need to file them,” Draco told him.

“I’ll do it tomorrow,” Harry replied, trying to sound neutral and nonchalant about it. He realised that he was clenching his fists again.

Draco’s eyes flickered and he looked like he wanted to say something, but finally he settled for a quick nod. “Don’t forget to sign them,” he said. “You…haven’t done it yet.”

Harry nodded stiffly. A small — very small— part of him wanted to lash out, respond with a ’Can’t wait to get rid of me, Draco?’ but that was ridiculous.

Of course Draco wanted this taken care of. Harry did too.

Really, it’s not like they were actually married.

It was just an accident— a stupid, highly inconvenient mistake that they could finally set right and move on with their respective, separate lives.

That was how it should be.

“Tomorrow,” Harry promised.

Draco nodded, apparently willing to take his word for it. This was the same man who wouldn’t trust Harry with a grocery list. Harry couldn’t help but wonder how much things had changed.

It was over. It was finally over.

And of course it was a good thing but Harry felt compelled to say something anyway.

“I…”

Draco cut him off. He covered the distance between them in two long strides and pressed himself against Harry. Slim, pale arms looped around his neck and Harry responded instinctively, wrapping his own arms around Draco’s body.

He was too thin, too pale and much too pointy. All lines and angles…Harry could feel the sharp planes of his body— his hip bones and his chin and his elbows. But it felt right, somehow. And in that moment, with his soon to be ex-husband’s slim frame leaning into him, he knew that Draco was afraid too— afraid of moving on with his life and putting all of this behind him, afraid of saying goodbye.

But he had to do this. They had to. It was how things should be and they both knew it. So Harry did what he did best. He pulled Draco closer and pressed a reassuring kiss to his forehead. “You’ll be fine,” he promised. “It’s going to be okay, Draco. I promise.”

“I know,” Draco whispered. “It’s just…”

“I know.”

Draco disentangled himself and Harry let him go. There was nothing more to say.

This was a good thing.

It was.

Draco picked up his boxes and gave him a shaky, not quite there smile. “Take care, Harry,” he murmured.

Harry nodded, but his eyes remained glued to Draco’s back. The quiet click of the door echoed in his ears long after Draco had gone.

Draco was gone.

Harry was a free man again. For some reason, freedom felt…different from how he remembered.

Finally, he heaved a quiet sigh and took a look around his flat. Why did it look so empty? Draco only had three boxes.

Harry’s shoulders slumped. He was tired, that was all. He needed sleep.

He would file the divorce papers tomorrow.

Tomorrow.


 

 

One week later…

Harry was tired. He was always tired these days, and it wasn’t a general, worked-late-and-crashed-on-the-couch tired. This was an exhaustion that went down to his bones and it was starting to worry him.

A residual effect of the bond, perhaps? That definitely wasn’t good.

He hadn’t felt this awful since the early days.

If it was the bond acting up again, maybe Draco was feeling it too. Harry considered calling him, or sending an owl. But Draco was in Paris and Harry hadn’t heard from him since. He was probably really busy, visiting art galleries and the like. Not sleep deprived and lolling about in bed like Harry. He must be busy— he hadn’t called Harry once or even bothered with an owl. Why would he, when he had a whole new life waiting for him?

The thought only exhausted him more.

No, Harry decided firmly. He didn’t need to call Draco. He wasn’t going to call Draco like some needy, desperate ex.

What Harry needed was a professional. So he stumbled his way over to the fire-place and made a quick, albeit painful Floo call.

Bill showed up an hour later.

 


 

 

Harry was at the table, idly shuffling through some papers and fighting to stay awake when he heard the click of the front door. Then quick, efficient footsteps sounded, making their way over and stopping in front of him. Harry lifted his head and blinked slowly at Bill.

“Well,” Bill commented with a grin. “You look like a million galleons.”

Harry huffed and slumped down, resting his throbbing head on the table again. “I changed my mind. You can go now.”

“Right, coffee it is.”

Shuffling footsteps retreated to the kitchen and Harry turned his head to observe Bill rummaging about his kitchen. He moved efficiently, retrieving mugs and boiling water with a careless flick of his wand.

“Where do you keep the coffee?” he asked.

“Top cabinet, far left,” Harry replied.

“Found it. Wait, why’s it in the spice rack?”

“Because I married a complete nutter,” Harry retorted automatically. The next second, he cursed and bit the inside of his cheek.

Damn it.

Why did he have to say that? He hadn’t meant to bring Draco up at all. So far, Bill had expertly avoided the subject and Harry saw no reason to change that happy dynamic. Now Bill would make him talk about it and Harry really didn’t want to.

What good would it do anyway? Draco wasn’t around to launch into another endless argument about how coffee was in fact, a spice.

…which is why we put it on the spice rack. Stop me if I’m going too fast for you, Potter.

Right. Let me see if I’ve got this. We put the coffee on the spice rack…because I married a complete nutter.

It’s called being organized, you barbarian.

It’s called being neurotic, you ponce.

“Harry?"

Harry snapped out of his reverie, blinking up at Bill. Bill raised an eyebrow and handed him a cup of steaming coffee, taking a seat without another word. Harry accepted it gratefully and took a swig.

Coffee. Coffee fixed everything.

Bill seemed content to sit next to him in silence, looking over the Prophet now and then and sipping his own coffee. Thank Merlin. No questions, no cautious enquiries, no I’m there for yous or if you want to talk about its…

“It’s not the bond.”

And then he had to go ruin it. Harry sighed and put his mug down with a sharp clatter. Bill abandoned the paper and watched him carefully, his blue eyes sharp and assessing. “It doesn’t work that way and you know it,” Bill went on, taking Harry’s silence as an invitation to continue. “If it was the bond, you’d be feeling uneasy and nauseous, spiked heart rate, paranoia—that sort of thing. Exhaustion never figured in your symptoms before.”

“There’s no other reason for me to be feeling this bloody awful,” Harry informed him sullenly. His head was throbbing again and he resisted the urge to massage his temples.

“You’re sure about that? No other reason at all?” Bill leaned back, his eyes never wavering. His fingers drummed against the table—a sign that he definitely had more to say on the subject. Harry however, had a headache.

“No,” he replied firmly.

“Oh. I see.”

There was another tense silence as Harry glowered at the table. Bill went back to reading the Prophet. Harry wasn’t sure if he was grateful or irritated. Probably both. Then again, he hadn’t called Bill here to make him coffee. Harry sighed…might as well get this over with too.

“So, Draco and I need to split our vault at Gringotts.”

Bill looked up at him. “Yeah?”

“Well, the Ministry insisted we set it up when we were…you know. I figure now that he’s out of the picture, so to speak, maybe we could…”

He trailed off and Bill nodded. “I can take care of that, no problem.”

“Thanks,” Harry mumbled in reply. Good. This was good. Things were finally moving and everything would be back to…

“I’ll need a copy of your divorce papers though. Have you filed them with the Ministry yet?”

Harry’s hands clenched around his mug and he grimaced. This coffee was bloody awful— just black and bitter and…

“Harry? I asked if…”

“Tomorrow,” Harry bit out. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

 


 

Things settled down a bit after that first week. Harry managed to get back into a routine of sorts. He still didn’t feel up to going to work— what with the constant exhaustion— but he figured the DMLE would get along fine without him for a while. There was enough to do around the house anyway. 

He spent most of his time rearranging his closet (he had plenty of room for his stuff now that Draco’s clothes were no longer hogging up all the space) and changing the sheets (although his own didn’t really match up to the one thousand count cottons Draco had always insisted upon, maybe he should go shopping later). Plus, the plants needed watering. He had promised, after all…

He even managed to get some reading done. Draco’s books were still all over the place. He hadn’t sent for them yet. Harry wondered if he should owl them over? Draco would like that, probably. Then again, he hadn’t really left an address. he hadn’t even bothered to collect them yet. He was probably busy.

Just like Harry was. Because Harry was busy.

So busy in fact, that he didn’t notice he had company until said company marched over and whacked him in the head.

“Potter, stop wallowing in bed and say hello to me, for Merlin’s sake!”

Harry bolted up with a yelp of surprise that didn’t impress Pansy at all. She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms, inviting an explanation. Harry absently wondered if she’d been spending time with Hermione recently.

“Hello, Pansy,” he greeted obediently.

Pansy smirked and patted his head. “There’s a good Potter,” she cooed. “Would you like a biscuit?”

Harry didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, he trudged out of bed with a grumble and made his way over to the kitchen. If he was going to have to deal with Pansy first thing in the morning, it was going to be with an obscene amount of coffee.

“Spice rack,” Pansy called obligingly.

“Got it,” Harry replied with a barely concealed eye-roll. After all this time, he’d like to think that he knew where the spice rack was in his own house. It’s not like Draco ever let him forget about…

 Right.

Harry scowled and slammed the cabinet shut, leaving the coffee out on the counter just because. Pansy sidled over and perched on a stool, swiping a mug as well. Her lips pursed as Harry pointedly ignored her and poured himself a cup.

“Really, Potter,” she sniffed. “Just because you’re no longer joined at the hip to my best friend, that’s no reason to be rude.” She took a disparaging look around his flat. “Or a slob, for that matter.”

“Working on it,” Harry replied. “Besides, this is what a bachelor pad is supposed to look like."

“Mm,” Pansy replied noncommittally. “I’ll be sure to let Draco know you’re embracing your new found freedom then.”

And just like that the semi-casual atmosphere dissipated. Suddenly, Harry was extremely aware of Pansy’s dark eyes tracking him carefully, gauging his reaction. Looking for something that could give her some insight into his real state of mind.

Of course.

If he hadn’t had the distinct advantage of spending the last year or so with Slytherin’s finest, Harry would probably have indulged her too. Except Pansy was a Slytherin to the bone, and semi-awkward friendship or not, she was prying  for information here, looking for the proverbial upper hand. That wasn’t something Harry was willing to give up.

Not unless you’ve got something to offer in return, princess.

So, he favoured her with a nonchalant smile and relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders. “There’s something to be said for it, yeah,” he offered, suppressing a grin as her eyes narrowed speculatively. “I reckon Draco’s having a great time of it.”

A question for a question. Your move, Parkinson.

Pansy considered that carefully, her expression pleasantly neutral. Apparently, she was unwilling to give anything away. “We haven’t spoken much since he left for Paris,” she replied smoothly. “Speaking of the devil, he mentioned something about his books. I’m supposed to collect them because apparently, I’m an owl now.”

Not in a sharing mood then. Harry wondered why that was. If Draco was perfectly happy, Pansy shouldn’t have anything to hide. Perhaps, she was just fishing for gossip. Yes, that sounded more like her.

“Come on, I’ll help you with them,” he said, ushering her towards the library. Well to be fair, it had originally started out as a place for Harry to dump his case files until he got around to doing something with them. Then Draco had come along and ‘converted’ the study (Harry preferred the term ‘hostile takeover’) into a mini-library. His heart did a funny clenchy thing as he entered the room. He’d had no reason to come here since Draco left. Not that he’d been avoiding it or anything. He just hadn’t needed anything from there and so the room was left undisturbed. But now that he was here…

Merlin, it was like Draco had never left. For a few minutes, all Harry could do was stare at the walls.

Charcoal sketches. Everywhere Harry looked he saw sharp lines, deft angles, black on white, merging into grey. Some were hastily done and only partly finished, others were painstakingly detailed. He recognized a few of them. That one for example, was from when Ron and Hermione had come to visit. Somehow, Draco had managed to capture Hermione’s long suffering but fond look— the one she always took on when Ron took a fourth slice of cake— to perfection. Apparently Draco had been paying some attention after all, despite keeping up every appearance of pointedly ignoring them.

And that other one was something Draco had clearly been working on recently. It wasn’t finished but the wry smirk and insolent grin staring back at him was undoubtedly Sirius. Where had Draco even found a picture of Sirius to work with in the first place? That wasn’t the interesting part though. In this picture, Sirius was still behind bars. But the expression on his face wasn’t one of defeat or resignation. There was a challenge there. Something that seemed to suggest that he was still there, despite everything life had thrown at him. That he was indomitable, unbroken. It was just so...Sirius.

An army, but the background was dark and blurred and the faces were faded. The only details he could pick out were the dark splotches splashed across their arms. They didn’t look like much of an army to Harry. They looked…lost. And alone. There was something about the way their backs were bowed and their shoulders were hunched that said they wanted to leave, but they couldn’t.

Harry stared at them for a long time and he had to admit, it made him uneasy. There was something about them that hit a little close to home. They were unabashed and unapologetic, blatantly exposing everything about their subjects. There was no judgement there, just wry, frank observation— that subtle twist of irony seemed to jump out of each and every frame.

Every single one screamed Draco.

Well, at least now he knew why he didn’t come to this room much.

“Merlin,” Pansy breathed next to him. “They’re…”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “They are, aren’t they?”

“He’s good,” Pansy murmured, sounding grudgingly impressed. Harry noticed how her eyes strayed to the sketch of the faded army. She swallowed and turned away. “Maybe too good,” he heard her mutter under her breath as she went about collecting the books. Harry didn’t really blame her for being unnerved. There was a blatant honesty in Draco’s work. It took getting used to. It was like everything he couldn’t express in words or actions came out in his sketches. For someone like Pansy, that could be unsettling.

When he finally tore his gaze from Draco’s sketches and turned around, Pansy was staring at him. Her expression seemed less calculative and more…contemplative. Or something like that. Harry raised an enquiring eyebrow and she shook her head slowly. Her gaze drifted back to the sketches.

“I always told him he should stop wasting his time on these,” she said softly. “I used to tell him to focus on more important things.” Then she turned back to him and eyed him quizzically. “But you didn’t. You got him to quit the job he hated and go to art school in Paris.”

Harry shrugged, unsure what to say. This conversation had taken a rather abrupt turn. “I told him to do what makes him happy.”

“No,” Pansy replied firmly. “You told him he was good. That he could do more with his life if he wanted to. That’s what you did. It’s a lot more than I ever did.”

She was being frank. For once, she wasn’t playing games with him. She was offering him something, but for the life of him he didn’t know what.

“You did good is what I’m saying, Potter,” she elaborated with a put upon sigh. “Merlin, I have to spell everything out for you don’t I?” Her lips quirked as Harry chuckled slightly at that, and she shook her head and scrounged around in her bag for a bit. “Here,” she said, thrusting something at him. “He wanted you to have this.”

Harry gaped, first at her and then at the scrapbook. He turned it over in his hands, still stunned into silence. “He…he kept this?” he asked finally. He could hardly believe it. He had forgotten all about…

 “He said it was good,” Pansy shrugged. “You know, for a laugh. It’s all yours now. Treasure it and all that.”

“Thanks,” Harry replied softly. Draco had kept this. Why had he kept this? Harry had forgotten all about it, right until Pansy had all but shoved it in his arms. Instinctively, his grip tightened around the book. It wasn’t much but it still felt heavy. The weight of all those memories seemed to pull him down. Harry shook his head. Obviously, he was just experiencing another bout of exhaustion. It had nothing to do with…

“Well, you’re clearly preoccupied,” Pansy snarked, hefting the books up. “I’ll just see myself out.”

“Pansy,” he heard himself say. She turned around and raised an enquiring eyebrow.

Harry swallowed. “When you see him again, tell him…tell him I’m proud of him, will you?”

She smiled at him. For a second, Harry thought he saw a twinge of exasperation and pity in her eyes. “You know, Potter,” she said softly. “For a smart bloke, you’re a real dolt sometimes.” With that, she kissed his cheek affectionately, turned her back and strode into the Floo, leaving Harry alone with his arm-load of memories.

 


 

By the second week, Harry was willing to admit that something was seriously wrong. The exhaustion had only become worse. He couldn’t sleep properly and often found himself shifting restlessly on his too large bed. The damn thing was endless. It had never seemed so big and empty before. Of course, back then he wasn’t the only one in it. Harry cursed fluently. Memories of Draco in that bed were absolutely not what he needed right now.

So he tried to distract himself. He spent late hours at the office and rarely came home. When he did he would confine himself to the bedroom or the kitchen, keeping the library door firmly shut at all times. It didn’t help at all.

No matter where he looked, he found something or the other that reminded him of Draco. The spot on the sofa Draco had sprawled across on weekend mornings, long legs dangling carelessly as he sketched. The countertop he sat cross-legged on (despite Harry’s frequent entreaties to use a damn chair, that’s what we have them for) frowning over the Prophet and fiddling with his tea. The bed where…well, Harry tried not to think about the bed.

Nothing was working. And through it all, Harry had to contend with the book Pansy had inexplicably dropped into his life again. He kept it out of sight most of the time. But every now and then, his fingers would fidget restlessly, pulling it out of its latest hiding place and hovering over the cover. He never opened it, because really what good would that do? Every single time he shoved it back on the shelf, resolving that tomorrow, tomorrow would be the day when he would put it away for good and sign those damned divorce papers.

The book stayed and the papers remained unsigned, and Harry had no excuse for either.

 


 

It was Friday when he heard the door of his flat open with a quiet click. Harry winced and discreetly rolled the bottle of Firewhisky under the couch. Truth be told, he had expected an intervention of some kind. Ron and Hermione had been less than happy with him at their last visit. Harry had been quiet and withdrawn, thanks to another sleepless night. Ron had done his best to make conversation, even foregoing a plate of biscuits in his efforts to get Harry to respond. Hermione had been a bit more subtle. She had enquired gently about work and his health, what he was doing these days and so on.

When Draco came up in her line of questioning, Harry abruptly remembered he had somewhere to be. They had left but not before he saw the worried look in Hermione’s eyes and Ron running an agitated hand through his hair and muttering about how he wasn’t cut out for this.

If there was one thing Harry knew about his tenacious friends, they were not going to let this go without a fight. So, he sat up, scrubbed a hand through his hair and steeled himself for an inevitable round of opinions and advice, waiting for the padding footsteps to make their way over to him.

“Well, at least you’re out of bed this time.”

Harry’s head snapped up. Bill smiled ruefully and approached, shrugging out of his coat and depositing it carelessly on the table.

Harry shifted over, making room for him to sit. “I thought you were…”

“They wanted to come,” Bill cut in. “Something about how you shouldn’t be alone right now. There may have been some talk about seeing a Mind Healer. I told them to back off and let you deal with this on your own. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Oh,” Harry blurted as he processed that last bit. “Thanks.”

Bill waved him off and settled down with a contented sigh, his head lolling back against the couch. “Pass me that whisky you just stashed away,” he said. He grinned at Harry’s dumbfounded expression and waggled his fingers. Harry retrieved the whisky and passed it over without a word.

“Ah, Ogden’s,” Bill chuckled, eyeing the bottle fondly. “We meet again, old friend.”

Harry rolled his eyes as he took a swig. “You two are friendly then?”

Bill grinned. “This little beauty got me through my first training semester, a three year stint at Machu Picchu and a long and messy divorce. We go way back.”

“So you’re not going to tell Hermione that I’m succumbing to alcoholism?” Harry prompted hopefully, because quite frankly that was an alarming thought.

Bill passed him the bottle. “Trust me, Harry. This is normal.”

Harry frowned at that. “What does that mean?” he demanded finally.

Bill shrugged. “Well, all I’m saying is you’ve been through a major life change. If you weren’t drinking your sorrows away in the middle of a divorce, I’d be worried.”

Really? This again? Honestly, he had expected better from Bill. Still bristling, Harry turned to regard him balefully. “I’m not drinking my sorrows away,” he informed Bill firmly. “I’m fine. It’s just been a rough week. I’m exhausted and I can’t sleep, that’s all this is. The bond…"

“Merlin, enough about the bond,” Bill groaned. “Harry, that isn’t it. The bond has been broken for weeks, okay? You were there, you saw me take the spell off. You know that isn’t it.”

“Well, then maybe you can explain it to me,” Harry snapped. “Why do I feel so lost? And tired? Why doesn’t anything feel right anymore? Go on, give me a reason.”

Bill straightened and regarded him with unwavering blue eyes. “Do you want my honest opinion?” he asked.

“No,” Harry bit out sullenly.

“Didn’t think so. So shut up and drink.”

Harry subsided, but not without shooting Bill a dirty look. He resented the implications of that little conversation, really. Bill should know better than to think he was depressed or something. It was such a ridiculous notion Harry almost wanted to laugh. Depressed over what? He had known exactly what he was getting into. There had been no expectations at all. Hell, this was exactly what he had wanted. Draco had too. And Bill had been there from the beginning, he had seen how bad it had been, how much he—no, they— had resented the situation. How could he even think that Harry actually missed...

“What’s this?”

Harry froze as Bill picked up the scrapbook. What the...how did it even end up here? Damn it! Bill frowned and pried it open and Harry sprang into action. Bill’s eyes widened in surprise as Harry snatched the book back and cradled it to his chest.

“Er...sorry?” he offered. “I didn’t realize it was private.”

“It’s not,” Harry protested. “I mean, it’s just...”

“Hang on,” Bill interrupted, staring intently at the book. “This isn’t...that thing Hermione asked you to do, is it?”

Harry sighed and turned it over in his hands. “It started as research. She said she wanted to study the bond, how it works, how it affected us— that sort of thing. So she asked us to take some pictures.”

“And you did it anyway?” Bill chuckled, evidently amused.

Harry shrugged. “Well, we started doing it out of spite. But then— I don’t know— Draco liked taking them, I suppose. So we kept at it. It was fun at the time.”

“May I see them?”

Harry’s hands tightened around the scrapbook. His first instinct was to refuse because really, they were kind of personal. He hadn’t even let Hermione go through the photographs yet, and it was her idea. Then again, what was the big deal anyway? It was like he kept reminding himself, they didn’t really mean anything. Just snaps of him and Draco, trying to figure out a way to manage the bond. No big deal. Bill could take a look if he wanted to. Harry didn’t care either way.

Bill grinned and pried it open, flipping idly through the first page. Almost instantly, he burst out laughing. “Merlin, you look murderous,” he managed, pointing at the first snap. “Is Malfoy flipping us the bird?” Harry grinned and leaned over to look at the snap. Sure enough, he was sulking and Draco’s eyes were flashing furiously. Then as they stared, Draco sneered and most certainly made a rude gesture. Meanwhile picture Harry rolled his eyes. 

Despite himself, Harry’s grin widened at the sight. “That was the very first one. For the official record,” he explained. “We weren’t exactly happy about it.”

“Apparently not,” Bill agreed. “Is that Kingsley’s office in the background? You were at the Ministry?”

“Don’t you remember? You were there.”

 


 

 

One year ago...

Kingsley would like to think he was good at his job. As the Minister for Magic, he was expected to keep a calm head on his shoulders and react rationally in high stress situations. Most of the time, this part of the job came naturally to him.

That being said, Potter and Malfoy would be the death of him one of these days.

“I suppose congratulations are in order?” he asked dryly.

Auror Potter scowled and slumped into his chair. Meanwhile, Malfoy— an up and coming face at the International Affairs Department— regarded him with an expression that said in no uncertain terms that if he could get away with it, he would stab the Minister in the throat with a quill.

Kingsley raised an eyebrow at them. “What? Too soon?”

“So glad you’re enjoying this, Minister,” Malfoy growled. “I’m sure the Wizengamot will be most appreciative of your sparkling wit when I sue you and the thrice damned Ministry for every galleon you have.”

“Oh, here we go...” Potter grumbled.

 Malfoy’s attention snapped to him at once. “You’ve got something to say?”

Potter sneered at him. He sounded exhausted, not to mention enraged. “Is that your bloody answer to everything?” he demanded. “I’m Draco Malfoy and I like to sue people!” He was affecting a high whiny voice now, a rather apt imitation of Malfoy if Kingsley did say so himself. Potter carried on, apparently on a roll. “If I get in trouble, I’ll just bullshit my way out of it. No tea in the break room? Sue the Ministry! Can’t find a quill? Sue the Ministry, of course! Enrage a Veela and get myself and an innocent bystander in a world of shite? Let’s just sue the bloody...”

They were both on their feet now. Potter was still yelling and Malfoy looked close to apoplectic. “Me?” he hissed. “Me?! How dare you? You’re the one who stumbled into a sodding mating ring! How stupid do you have to be...”

“You didn’t need to follow me, you prat!”

“I was trying to get you out and avoid an inter-creature incident! If you’d got stuck in there with a Veela...”

“But I didn’t, did I? I got stuck in there with you!

Kingsley cut in before they came to blows. “I will assume that this is the point where the Veela in question cast the spell?”

They stopped glaring daggers at each other. Malfoy sneered. “It wasn’t a spell. It was a sodding curse.”

“You’re a sodding curse,” Potter grumbled.

“Merlin help me, I will smite you where you...”

“Gentlemen.”

Kingsley fixed them with the stern, no nonsense expression that worked wonders on his six year old nephew. “The rest of the story, if you would be so kind? Need I remind you that unless we have all the facts, we can’t do much for your situation?"

Potter shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. The Veela caught us in the ring and threw a hissy fit— something about defiling a sacred ritual or something. There was a flash of light and next thing I know, I’m bonded to this pra—Malfoy.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “That’s more or less it,” he concurred. “Now can we please see a curse breaker and have this taken care of? I have a lawsuit to file.”

Kingsley gave him a flat look before gesturing at the door. “I believe that’s your cue.”

“Thank you, Minister,” Bill replied, nodding a greeting as he entered the office. His gaze landed on the sullen men sitting across from Kingsley and he greeted them politely. “Harry. Malfoy.”

“Bill!” Potter exclaimed in relief. “Thank Merlin.” He turned to Malfoy with a grin. “Bill’s the best there is. He’ll fix this."

Malfoy nodded stiffly, apparently unwilling to criticise the only person in the room who had half a chance of helping him. Smart man, Kingsley thought.

“So Bill,” he said, turning to the oldest Weasley boy. “What’s the damage? Can it be reversed?”

Bill cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Theoretically, yes. Mungo’s had their medical records on file and it’s pretty extensive documentation but I was able to...”

“What do you mean theoretically?” Malfoy interrupted abruptly. His voice was quiet—deceptively calm, in fact— but his fists were clenching and unclenching in barely suppressed agitation. Next to him, Potter was paling rapidly.

“You said theoretically,” he confirmed. “What does that mean?”

Bill looked alarmingly sympathetic. “Harry, it’s not permanent. I promise. But...”

“What does theoretically mean, Bill?” Potter snapped.

Bill sighed. “Okay, look. It’s like this...”

He explained the situation. Or at least he tried his best. It was considerably difficult, what with the other two interrupting with angry shouts, cries of horror, shudders of disgust, threats of lawsuits and the like but Kingsley got the gist of it.

Veela magic.

Rare, but not unheard of. Extremely difficult to undo since it links easily with the magical core of the victims. Any attempt to lift the spell meant serious risk to the body and mind.

Mostly a variation of the commonly known ‘soul bond’ performed at magical wedding ceremonies. It encouraged close proximity, frequent...physical contact and fidelity. Resistance was dangerous, and certainly unpleasant.

On the plus side, the bond weakened with time. In this case, it would take about...

“A year?” Potter snarled. “You’re telling me I’m stuck with him for a sodding year?!”

Malfoy wasn’t faring any better. “Weasley! So help me Merlin, you fucking fix this or I will...”

“Let me guess. Sue him?”

“Shut up, Potter!”

Kingsley rubbed his temples, tuned the yelling out and scribbled a memo, requesting a scribe and a photographer from Internal Affairs. An incident report would have to be initiated; documents would have to be made; it was going to be a whole mess of paperwork. All this because some dunce had decided to put Malfoy and Potter within five miles of each other without adult supervision.

As soon as he had a minute to himself, Kingsley planned to write a very strongly worded letter to Human Resources.

 


 

Bill burst out laughing as Harry finished the story.

“Now I remember,” he managed between chuckles. “I was pretty sure one of you was going to hex me.”

Harry snorted. “You think that was bad? You should have seen what he almost did to that poor sap from Internal Affairs who ‘suggested’ we get married. I’m pretty sure that hex is illegal in several countries.”

“Sounds like Malfoy,” Bill agreed. “Wait, the Ministry told you to get married? I thought you came up with that one by yourselves.”

“Really, Bill?” Harry asked flatly. “After what I just told you, do you really think Draco and I would have volunteered for that?”

“Point taken. So why...”

“They figured it would be less embarrassing than admitting to sending their employees on pointless missions where they get accosted by barking mad Veelas. Or at least, that’s what the official said.”

“And you two went along with it because...”

“We were joined at the hip. We couldn’t exactly spend time apart, so working at the office wasn’t an option. Short of quitting our jobs and sitting around glaring at each other, we didn’t have much of a choice. Plus the Ministry agreed to pay us a generous ‘living expense’. They got us this flat, they paid for the wedding...”

“The wedding! Oh, the wedding!” Bill interrupted excitedly. “Please tell me there are pictures of the wedding in that.”

Harry raised an eyebrow but Bill was already rummaging through the scrapbook impatiently. “Yes!” he crowed, pointing happily at a snap. “Oh look, there’s Malfoy shoving cake in your face.”

“And there’s Hermione yelling at us for starting a food fight,” Harry grinned. “It was quite a night, yeah?”

Bill’s eyes settled on a familiar blond figure hovering at the edge of the frame. His smile faded. A flick of golden hair and the slight shimmer of her gown was all the evidence that she had even been there. “More than you know, actually,” he replied.

 


 

Still a year ago...

The Ministry official cleared his throat nervously as he glanced at two murderous grooms facing off on the altar. This had not been in the job description.

“Mr Potter?” he stammered. “The vows, if you please?”

“Ugh…” Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he grumbled, all but shoving the ring on Draco’s finger and smirking as his ‘husband to be’ winced slightly. “With this ring, I pledge myself to you until death do us part. Which by the way, is pretty likely seeing that I might strangle you in your sleep before this bleeding year is over.”

“Not if I get you first, Potter.”

“Boys!”

Narcissa and Molly shared sympathetic looks over their protests while Ginny clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle the giggling. Hermione sighed in defeat while Ron remained in the corner he had occupied at the start of the ceremony, muttering ‘This is happening. Merlin’s silk knickers, this is actually happening’ over and over again.

“At least try to be pleasant to each other,” Narcissa scolded. “Draco, I did not raise you to act like this.”

“And I’d like to think I did a better job with you, Harry,” Molly pointed out sternly.

“Fine,” Draco conceded. “I’m sorry, Potter. Sorry you were born.”

“Go to hell. And take the blighted Veelas with you.”

“I resent zat,” Fleur protested indignantly.

Bill chuckled and put an arm around her waist, drawing her into an affectionate embrace. “He doesn’t mean it, love. He’s just stressed.”

Fleur gave him a tight smile and disentangled herself. Bill’s shoulders slumped as he watched her retreating back. Things had been hard ever since he came back from Brazil. Fleur was always distant and cold these days. He couldn’t remember the last time they’d actually sat down and had a real conversation. But he was back now, right? Things would work out. They always did.

“Damn it, Mione. I don’t want to take pictures! What makes you think I want to remember any of this?”

“It’s for research, Harry. I want to study the bond. Now hold still so I can take a picture!”

Well, most things worked out. Bill grinned and headed for the bar. It was a wedding after all. Besides someone needed to stop Ron from drowning himself...

“Care for a dance?”

Bill turned around abruptly, almost knocking into the petite, dark haired witch standing right behind him. She stumbled and Bill reached out on instinct, steadying her with a hand around her waist. A really tiny waist...

“Merlin,” she exclaimed, righting herself and glaring at him. “There’s no need for violence.”

Bill grinned as she flicked her long, dark hair back. Cute. One of Malfoy’s little friends, he remembered. What was her name again? Penelope? Pamela? Either way, Penelope slash Pamela still looked pretty put out about being knocked over, so he offered his sincerest apologies.

“I’m so sorry. Are you hurt?”

“Lucky for you, no,” she snapped. Bill grinned and held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. That seemed to appease her. “I’m Pansy,” she announced without preamble.

Pansy. That was it. “Bill Weasley,” he replied. “You’re Malfoy’s friend?”

Pansy smirked. “Friend, confidant, one woman support group— take your pick.”

Bill laughed at that. Really cute. “He looks like he needs it,” he quipped. “Both of them.”

“The big baby,” Pansy tutted. At the other end of the hall, Malfoy glared daggers as a persistent Hermione harangued him for a picture. His eyes met Pansy’s in a silent plea for help. Pansy merely snickered and blew him a kiss before turning her attention back on Bill. “So Bill Weasley, you never answered my question. Care to escort a lady to the dance floor?”

Honestly, he would have loved to. He liked this girl. He liked her smile and the mischievous sparkle in her eyes. She was fun and smart and very pretty. But Fleur was hovering by the dance floor, and he just knew that he needed to fix whatever was going on between them.

“I owe my wife a dance. Raincheck?”

Pansy’s eyes flickered for a second, but then she shrugged and offered him a smile. “I’ll hold you to it, Weasley.” And then she was gone, drifting through the crowd and making her way to Malfoy’s side.

Bill was still grinning as he made his way over to Fleur. His wife pursed her lips as he approached. Bill brushed it off and placed an arm around her waist to pull her in. “May I have this dance?”

Not for the first time that night, Fleur pushed him away. For a second, Bill thought she was just angry with him. He tightened his hold on her, determined to keep her close until he could explain, reassure her that he would never leave, that he was back now and everything was okay.

And then she looked at him and the words died in his throat. There were tears in her eyes but her hand stayed firm on his chest, still pushing him away from her. Not wanting him to touch her.

“Bill,” she said, voice quivering but firm. “I must speak wiz you.”

It was like an epiphany. He had no idea what she was going to say, but in that moment, deep down inside he knew that he couldn’t fix it.

He was too late.

Twenty minutes later, she was gone.

Bill wasn’t sure how long he stood there, watching the door in the faint hope that she would change her mind and come back. Finally, he went back to the bar and ordered a bottle of Ogden’s finest.

The world descended into complete chaos around him. One of the grooms finally lost it and shoved cake in the other’s face. Retaliation was swift and brutal. Somewhere, he could even hear Hermione was yelling at them to behave themselves while Ginny cackled and snapped pictures with brutal efficiency.

Bill didn’t care. The woman he loved had left him. And he didn’t know what to do about it.

 


 

Silence descended as Bill wrapped up his story. He placed the whisky bottle on the table, and the clink of glass seemed to echo on forever.

Harry really didn’t know what to say.  “I had no idea that was the night Fleur...I’m sorry, Bill.”

Bill shrugged, but the stiffness in his shoulders and the painful twist of his mouth was hard to miss. “Well, we knew it was for the best. Things just didn’t work out in the end. Sometimes they don’t.” He thumbed through the scrapbook again and offered up a wry grin. “Maybe if we had one of these, it would have worked out.”

Harry snorted at that. “Seriously, Bill? Are you paying attention to these at all?”

“It’s not all bad,” Bill mused. “Look at this one, for example. You and Malfoy are sharing a plate. That’s sort of...nice. Some might even call it romantic.”

Harry glanced at the photo and burst out laughing. “That is definitely not what it looks like.”

“I’m listening."

“It’s pretty late. Maybe we should…”

“Oh, come on. You’re not going to leave me hanging, are you? Go on, tell me what happened.”

“Oh, all right. So we’d been living together for two weeks, yeah? It was getting pretty rough and Draco…”

 


 

 

Draco was livid. This by itself, wasn’t exactly news. After all, he had been oscillating between stages of pure, unbridled rage and vengeful fury for the last two weeks.

Two weeks of complete hell.

At this point, he had all but mastered the art of gritting one’s teeth and counting to a billion. Plus, there was always the consolation that Potter was miserable too.

Draco had learnt to live with his lot in life as best as he could. However, this latest incident was the straw that broke the centaur’s back.

Draco stalked through the house, trying to locate the git. Potter was sprawled on the couch, leafing through a magazine. The Quidditch Enquirer. Draco’s magazine.

Okay. Now he had two reasons to kill Potter slowly. Draco could work with that.

Potter, being the git he was, refused to acknowledge his presence. Draco however, had a point to make.

“You left a plate in the sink.”

Potter barely glanced up from the magazine— still Draco’s magazine, by the way. He clenched his fists and waited for Potter to respond.

“So?” Potter drawled, inflecting a bored tone.

Oh. Alright then. So that’s how they were playing, was it?

“It was my plate,” Draco bit out. “You used it. Give it back."

Potter finally looked up. “I wasn’t aware we were splitting the dishes,” he said evenly. To be fair, this was a reasonable point. Potter couldn’t have known how finicky Draco was about his personal things. However, Draco had been through two weeks of Potter lounging in his spot on the couch, eating off his dishes and leaving towels all over his floor. They had been living in a state of silent tension and constant wariness for fourteen days. Draco’s nerves were all but fried.

He was not in the mood to be reasonable.

“We are,” he snapped. “I want my plate back.”

“Just use another plate, Malfoy.”

“I want that one.”

“I heard you the first time,” Potter growled. He sounded a bit peeved now and Draco felt a twisted sense of triumph at that. “If you need it that badly, just wash it.”

“Why don’t you wash it?”

“Because I’m normal, Malfoy. Normal people don’t do the dishes until there are no clean ones left. Now sod off, will you? I’m trying to read.”

Just like that, Potter dismissed him and went back to reading. In the spirit of sportsmanship, Draco gave him one last chance.

“So you’re not going to wash it?”

“No.”

That was it. It was the ‘no’ that did it. That stupid, self righteous thing that only Potter could pull off, the absolute refusal to cooperate on any matter no matter how small because heaven forbid it make Draco’s life any easier, the complete and absolute knowledge that this was what Draco was stuck with for the coming year and there was nothing he could do about it...

Yes. Yes, he was going to explode.

Draco marched over into the kitchen, wrenched open the cabinet and pulled out his wand.

First order of business. The dishes.

He worked carefully, methodically and with ruthless efficiency. It was a most satisfying process. Select a plate, toss it in the air, fire off the strongest Blasting Hex he knew, revel in triumph. Pieces of cutlery exploded around him and Draco grinned like a lunatic with every shattering crash and loud bang.

He almost missed Potter bolting in. There was a cry of horror and Draco turned around. The look of absolute horror and rage on Potter’s face was golden.

“The fuck?!” Potter yelled. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

“You said you won’t wash the dish until there were no others left, didn’t you?” Draco snarled back. He had just about had it and Potter was going to pay. Another plate exploded and Potter yelped and shielded himself with his arms as shattered china showered the both of them. Draco’s grin widened to maniacal proportions.

“Welcome to the Thunderdome, Scarhead."

“Oh, real mature!” Potter yelled. “What do you plan to do when you’re done destroying the dishes? Because I’m sure as hell not washing that fucking plate after this!”

“Yes, you will!”

“No, I won’t!”

Draco held Potter’s murderous gaze. Potter’s green eyed sparked with barely suppressed agitation, daring him to do his worst. Draco sneered and upped the ante. He aimed his wand for the one thing in the kitchen he knew Potter couldn’t do without.

“No!” Potter practically howled. “Don’t you dare!”

“Wash the dish.”

“Step away from the coffee maker!”

“Wash the fucking dish or else!”

“Never!”

BANG!

“Malfoy, you bastard!”

Draco went down as Potter lunged for him. They rolled about on the kitchen floor, punching and kicking, biting and snarling. Draco landed a punch square in Potter’s jaw and Potter howled in pain and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“You’re a fucking lunatic!” he snarled, grinding Draco into the floor for good measure. “Crazy crazy crazy! I can’t believe I’m stuck with you for a year!”

“The feeling is mutual, you tosser!”

“You broke my coffee maker!”

“You defiled my dish!”

I’m going to fucking kill you!”

“Not if I kill you first!”

The scintillating conversation died down in favour of more snarling and struggling. Somewhere along the line, Draco’s vision cleared and the haze of rage dissipated. That’s when he realized just what kind of situation he had landed himself in.

He was under Potter.

Potter was on top of him.

Oh. Oh no.

It was definitely harder to ignore that little detail now that it was out in the open. Potter’s hands were on his shoulders, holding him down. He was glaring at Draco and his chest heaved as his breath came in rapid pants. Draco could feel that toned chest pushing against his own body, he could feel the muscles under Potter’s clothes. He could feel the warmth of Potter’s skin where his fingers gripped him.

It was getting harder to concentrate. His mind was drifting now, registering sensations but not much else. Potter was too close, too damn close. And he didn’t look quite as angry anymore. Perplexed maybe, and a bit wary. His green eyes were boring into Draco’s, his fingers were tightening, his lips were slightly parted. Those lips were coming closer, for some reason. Potter was leaning in, still guarded but curious. Any closer and he would…

Draco kicked him. Right in the ribs.

“Holy hell! Damn it, Malfoy!”

Potter rolled off him, clutching his side and gasping for breath. Draco took a shuddering breath himself and sat up. He shook his head, feeling a lot more lucid. He should have known the bond would act up like that. What was he thinking brawling with Potter? Draco shuddered and scrambled back a few more paces. He needed to keep this under control. If Potter found out, he would never hear the end of it.

“What the hell was that for?” Potter demanded, sitting up and gingerly rubbing his side.

Draco ignored the question. “Truce,” he replied, staring intently at a spot just above Potter’s head. “You don’t take my things anymore and I’ll buy you a new coffee contraption.”

Potter glowered suspiciously at him as he considered that. He didn’t look too happy about it but finally, he offered a terse nod. “Fine,” he muttered. “Although I should point out that you destroyed every other dish we had, so it looks like we’re sharing tonight.”

Draco commenced counting down from a billion again. When the urge to run around in circles and bite complete strangers had dissipated, he offered a nod of his own. “Fine. But you’re washing it.”

Potter sneered and limped over to the sink while Draco stood up shakily and tended to his stir fry. This was a fucking nightmare.

Later, just to be contrary, he snapped a photograph of him and Potter sullenly sharing dinner from the surviving dish.

Might as well give Granger something to work with.

 


 

 

Bill looked torn between amusement and exasperation as Harry finished up his latest story. “Let me guess. You didn’t stop using his stuff, did you?”

Harry shrugged. “I may have licked his spoon a few times when he wasn’t looking,” he replied smugly. “He decimated my coffee maker, for Merlin’s sake.”

“It’s a wonder you didn’t kill each other.”

“It wasn’t for lack of trying.”

“I can see that. So when did things finally cool down a bit?”

Harry’s gaze flickered slightly but he reached for the scrapbook and flipped a few pages. “About that time.”

Bill’s eyes widened. “Is that…”

Harry nodded grimly. “Oh yes. We landed ourselves in St Mungo’s.”

 


 

The truce lasted for a week and a half. Of course it was too good to last.

Harry was honestly surprised they’d made it to day ten.

That was the day Malfoy had snarled at him for leaving his shoes lying about somewhere. Harry had retaliated by deliberately leaving the coffee out on the countertop instead of on the spice rack ‘where it belonged’. Malfoy slipped a green sock in the washer when he was doing his laundry. Harry destroyed the washer and the majority of Malfoy’s dress robes.

The month went by in a flurry of petty, vicious pranks and one-upmanship. Harry had to admit he wasn’t making the best of his situation. But Malfoy wasn’t exactly playing clean Quidditch either. He was getting increasingly intolerable to live with and the shouting matches had escalated to dangerous levels. The fact that he couldn’t get away from the bastard was playing havoc with Harry’s self restraint as well.

He hated—absolutely hated— this.

And on top of that, there were other things Malfoy was doing that were driving him spare. Like how he stirred his tea so damn slowly and then licked the spoon clean. Or when he sprawled on the couch with a book, long legs carelessly dangling over the side. Or when he got out of the shower with just a towel slung low on his hips.

Harry was taking notes. And he didn’t like it one bit.

Now, a rational part of him knew that Malfoy wasn’t really doing those things on purpose. Or at least not with the intention of driving him round the twist. But that didn’t change the fact that Harry was looking anyway and those images were starting to stick in his head. Sticking and turning into something...else. It was the bond (of course it was) but that didn’t make it any easier to live with. Especially when Malfoy didn’t seem to be bothered by it in the least. He just went about his business — all smug and sarcastic and attractive, the bastard.

Harry couldn’t avoid him. He couldn’t get away from him. And he definitely couldn’t confront Malfoy and tell him to stop licking spoons and being so bloody tall and slim. He would never hear the end of that.

So he just kept his distance and stewed in silence, watching and resenting and hating every minute of his married existence.

And then it happened.

Just when Harry had located the latest issue of The Quidditch Enquirer (Malfoy had hidden it under his bed) and resolved to spend a few hours in peace on his couch, it all went to hell.

Malfoy was sprawled on the couch, sketching of all things. Harry hadn’t known that Malfoy could draw. Harry hadn’t known Malfoy could do anything. But here he was, hard at work. Shading and drawing with sharp, precise strokes, rubbing his thumb against the parchment to blur out the lines. Harry just stood there and stared because really, what do you do in a situation like this? He didn’t want to see Malfoy and Malfoy was bloody well not going anywhere and couldn’t he just catch a break?

Harry was officially on his last nerve and it was in serious danger of snapping. Sodding Malfoy spread out like that with his legs, and his stupid blond hair and...Harry was starting to grind his teeth. The magazine crumpled in his fist.

Malfoy frowned and angled his head, obviously checking his work over. The quill dangled carelessly in his fingers. And then in a dastardly move of fate, he lifted the quill to his lips and sucked carelessly at the tip.

Last. Fucking. Straw.

Harry would like to think he hadn’t gone completely ballistic at this point of time.

But he did. He really did.

Later, he wouldn’t remember exactly what happened. He remembered that he raved and ranted like a man possessed, accused Malfoy of anything and everything he could think of. He remembered Malfoy jumping off the couch and getting in his face, flushed and fucking furious. He remembered insults being hurled back and forth.

But the only thing that really stuck with him was the throbbing pain in his head, the way his heart was pounding and how bloody awful it felt and why couldn’t it stop...just make it stop somehow…and still he went on and on, having at Malfoy like a dog with a bone. And Malfoy retaliated, paling with every passing second and shaking like a leaf.

He wasn’t sure how long it lasted. But it sure as hell ended when Malfoy’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed on the floor.

There were other things Harry wouldn’t remember later.

He didn’t remember the Floo Call to St Mungos. He didn’t remember heaving Draco onto his shoulder and flooing to the hospital. He didn’t remember screaming for help or Hermione running down the corridor and telling him— gently, firmly, in her best Healer voice —that he needed to let go of Malfoy if he wanted to help.

The only thing that stuck was Draco, pale and still, a dead weight on his shoulder...no, not dead. Not that.

That couldn’t bloody happen. He had been yelling at Harry ten minutes ago. He would be fine. The prat always came out alright.

He knew that the best thing he could do was let Hermione work in peace, but he couldn’t leave Malfoy alone like this. Not when he had brought about this horrible situation in the first place. He shrugged off the Healer hovering over him, ignoring her insistence that he needed medical attention too and sat next to Malfoy’s bed in silence. Hermione pursed her lips but she didn’t protest. She just fired off spells with ease and efficiency.

“Hold his hand,” she said, finally breaking the silence.

“What?”

“Hold his hand, Harry,” she repeated firmly. “The bond is interfering with my spell work. Can you please just cooperate so I can get on with it?”

Her tone was just on this side of scolding and Harry flinched on instinct. But he did as he was told. Despite the headache and the nausea and the constant prickling fear that they had just pushed this damn thing too far and Malfoy would not wake up, he reached for Malfoy’s hand and cradled it tight in his own.

Cold, slim fingers wrapped around Harry’s own. Some of the tension dissipated as Draco’s hand twitched in his grip. Harry pressed down gently, as reassuringly as possible. All through it, Hermione worked in stoic silence. An hour passed before she finally stopped.

“What now?” Harry asked as she stood.

Hermione packed up her kit and fixed him with a calm, blank expression. “Now we wait. He’s not in any immediate danger but we’ll keep him under observation. You’re not allowed to leave either. Try not to let go of his hand.”

“Is there anything else I can do?”

“Well, for one thing you can start taking this seriously.” She glared at him, brown eyes sparking angrily. “Harry, do you even realise what could have happened here?”

“I’m sorry. I am. I just...”

“I don’t want you to be sorry, Harry! I want you to be careful! Just...just look at him. Look at you! All of this could have been avoided if you two had just...”

“It’s not that simple!” Harry snapped. “We can’t spend all day latched on to each other— holding hands or whatever the damn bond requires! We’re driving each other mad as it is!” Abject frustration clawed at his insides. In some ways, it was worse than the unpleasantness of the bond. That he could fight— counterproductive though it may be. But this...this helplessness was something he had to live with, and it was bloody tiring.

Hermione’s eyes softened. She sighed and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I know. But you’re going to have to work around it. Harry, this is your health we’re talking about. Yours and Draco’s. Don’t you realise there’s no choice here?”

He almost laughed at that. Nobody knew that better than him. Except Draco, probably. His throat clenched and his eyes prickled. “I miss my life, Hermione,” he whispered. “I miss having a...having a damn choice.”

Her arms wrapped around him in a gentle hug. “I’m sure Draco does too,” she said. “Maybe you two have something in common here.” She gave him one last squeeze before letting go.

There was a click and a whir. Harry’s head snapped up and he scowled as Hermione put down the camera. “Is that really appropriate?” he demanded irritably. “He’s sick, Hermione.”

“I know,” she replied calmly. “Keep the picture. Hopefully, it will serve as a reminder. To both of you.”

With that, she left. Harry barely registered the quiet click of the door shutting. He was so damn tired. His head still hurt. Holding Draco’s hand was helping a bit but...no, what he really needed was sleep. But sleeping meant letting go of Draco’s hand and he really, really didn’t want to do that right now. Unless…

Harry groaned. He was being punished for something, he just knew it.

Gingerly, he peeled of Draco’s covers and toed his shoes off. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he felt a bit better. Draco felt warm against him.

Warm.

Soft.

Sleep.

Harry gave way to exhaustion and wrapped an arm around Draco, sighing in relief as the tension in his gut uncoiled slightly. Aches that he hadn’t even realised he had, dissipated. Harry wasn’t sure if he was happy or cross about that.

Stupid fucking bond.

“Potter?" 

Malfoy stirred and turned slowly. He rubbed his eyes sleepily and blinked at Harry, a slight frown furrowing his brow.

“Hi,” Harry whispered.

Merlin, this was awkward.

“You’re in bed with me." 

Definitely awkward. 

“I can...leave if you…”

“Don’t,” Malfoy mumbled, closing his eyes again. “It’s...better like this, as much as I hate to say it.”

Harry nodded in agreement, perhaps even empathy. Merlin knew Malfoy was the only one who could understand what he was going through right now. For once, the silence between them wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. It was almost...okay, which was why Harry felt compelled to break it.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I didn’t mean for this to happen…”

“Not your fault,” Malfoy sighed. “Well, not all your fault. I...did as much damage to you, I suppose.”

That was certainly true. Harry felt like he’d been put through the proverbial wringer. They sat in silence, each lost in their thoughts. Eventually, Malfoy spoke up again.

“We can’t fight this, can we?” His voice was heavy and strained. He sounded like he was carrying the world on his shoulders. Harry could empathise.

He sighed and offered a supportive squeeze. Unfortunately, they were together in this. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t think we can.”

“Bugger.”

Harry managed a laugh at that, mirthless and shaky. “What do we do?” he asked.

“Fuck if I know,” Malfoy replied. A tired smirk pulled at his lips. “My last plan of action landed me in the bleeding hospital.”

“We have to find a way to make this work. Before it kills both of us.”

“I know. We’ll...figure it out, I guess. Let’s just get some sleep for now.”

For once, Harry was in complete agreement. He curled an arm around Draco and closed his eyes.

 

 


 

 

“I thought I’d killed him,” Harry said softly. “For a while, I wasn’t sure he was going to make it.”

Bill squeezed his shoulder in a show of support. “Harry, if there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you would never hurt someone intentionally. It was an accident.”

Harry nodded but he couldn’t bring himself to agree. No, it hadn’t been intentional. It was still not one of his fondest memories though, and he tried not to think about it. He shook his head as if to do away with the memory of that incident altogether.

Bill was still looking at him with a mix of concern and sympathy and Harry rallied to change the subject. “Well, at least some good came out of it. We stopped trying to murder each other.”

“Always a good thing,” Bill conceded. “So you worked something out?”

Harry smiled at that. “I think so, yeah.”

 


 

By mutual, unspoken consent, they started to look out for each other. For one thing, the need for physical contact was something neither of them could ignore anymore. For another, nobody wanted to end up back in the hospital and face Hermione’s wrath again.

And so it was that reluctantly, grudgingly (not to mention very, very uncomfortably) touching was deemed acceptable. Even if it was not to be spoken of.

Ever.

To be honest, at first Harry wasn’t even sure they were doing it 

Well, he knew he was keeping a close eye on Draco after the hospital. He was still weak and Harry felt guilty about having pushed him so hard. He made it a point to stay close in case the bond acted up. Draco didn’t need the added stress.

A few days had passed since the hospital visit. Harry was slowly getting his head around things. Draco hadn’t initiated a discussion over what they were supposed to do yet and Harry hardly wanted to press the subject. It could wait a while.

Not surprisingly, he soon came across Draco sprawled on the couch again. He was asleep this time. Harry halted on his way to the kitchen, wondering if he should wake Malfoy and send him to bed. The sofa couldn’t be very comfortable. Then again, he needed the rest. His leg was bent at an awkward angle and his sketchbook was dangling from his fingers. Harry frowned. If Draco had fallen asleep while sketching, he must have been pretty damn tired.

Harry was just about to leave him be when the twitching started. He stopped in his tracks for the second time in five minutes. Draco’s brow furrowed and he stirred slightly. As Harry watched, his frown became more pronounced. He mumbled and his hand batted about as if trying to ward something off. When his movements became jerkier and more than a little distressed, Harry approached carefully.

Draco tossed his head and groaned. Harry watched with growing concern. Okay. Pain, he was definitely in pain. That meant the bond was probably acting up again. Now that he thought about it, Harry had a bit of a headache too. Grimacing slightly, he hovered over Draco, debating whether to wake him or not. A whimper escaped the blond and Harry scowled, somewhat irritated on Draco’s behalf.

The damn bond...the least it could do was let him get some rest. How was he going to recuperate like this?

Draco wasn’t calming down. Finally, Harry decided to try something other than standing around uselessly. There wasn’t much he could do, but leaving Draco at the mercy of the bond just seemed unnecessarily cruel. The least he could do was try to help…

“It’s okay,” he attempted awkwardly. “You’re okay. Go back to sleep, Mal…”

Draco cut him off with a cry of pain. His back arched and his fists clenched. Harry reacted on instinct. His hand hovered for a second before carding gently through Draco’s hair. “Shh,” he whispered, keeping up his soothing ministrations. Soft, blond locks sifted through his fingers. Harry’s spine tingled. Damn, that felt good. Draco’s hair was really soft. If it wasn’t the most awkward situation of his life, Harry might have actually liked it.

Apparently, Draco thought so too. Slowly, very slowly, he calmed down. The tension left his body and he relaxed. Finally, his breathing deepened again and he lolled back on the couch with a contented sigh.

“Okay,” Harry murmured, keeping up his gentle cajoling. “Good. That’s good. You’ll feel better soon. Soon, Draco...”

He waited for a minute or so to make sure Draco was comfortable again. Draco remained still and sleeping, his expression peaceful. Harry heaved a sigh of relief.

Crisis averted.

He removed his hand—a tad regretfully— and left as quietly as he could 

He didn’t notice a pair of grey eyes flutter open, watching his retreating back intently.

 


 

 

Gratitude didn’t come easily to Draco. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the concept. However, the...execution eluded him. This wasn’t entirely his fault. He’d had a rather sheltered upbringing and if Mother and Father had taught him anything, it was that he was entitled to anything he desired simply because he was their son.

Learning that that wasn’t necessarily true had come as a bit of a shock, actually 

Nevertheless, it hadn’t struck him as a big deal. Draco was abysmally bad at thank-yous but then, no one did anything for him nowadays, so the issue never arose.

Until Potter had come along and done that...thing and, well what was Draco supposed to do now? Of course he was thankful that Potter had stepped in when he did. The bond had become extremely uncomfortable ever since St Mungo’s. Even asleep, he had known he was in pain. It had felt extremely real.

And then through the haze of sleep, he had felt a calming hand on his brow and a strong fingers sifting through his hair while someone murmured soothingly to him. By the time the pain dissipated completely and he was awake, Potter had gone.

But he had definitely been there. He had helped out for no other reason save that Draco had needed his help. The thought made his insides twist uncomfortably. Why? Why had Potter helped him, especially when Draco had done nothing but make him miserable? Why would he care? And more importantly, what was Draco supposed to do now?

The idea of saying thank you still made him cringe. Besides, Potter hadn’t exactly broached the subject. He seemed perfectly content to go about his business without acknowledging it. So Draco didn’t either.

Still every now and then, he caught himself stealing glances at Potter, watching him carefully and wondering why.

Life, such as it was, went on.

One day, Draco was perched on the kitchen counter, sipping tea and going through a file from work. The office was not an option, seeing that he still experienced a stabbing headache if he was away from Potter for too long. Potter didn’t seem too keen to go out on active fieldwork under the circumstances, either.

But things were as good as they could possibly get. The best they could do was try to normalise the situation as much as possible. Hence, by mutual, unspoken agreement they started working from home.

It wasn’t as bad as he had imagined, actually. Potter clearly had his own way of doing things. He didn’t really like to sit still. Most of the time, Draco saw him pacing about, frowning over a case file and muttering to himself. Then he would either bolt for the floo and make a call to the office or chuck the file away and find something else to look over. It was ridiculously inefficient but Draco kept his opinions to himself. All he needed was a quill and a quiet place to work for a few hours so it was easy to keep out of Potter’s way.

The kitchen was as good a place as any.

Draco made a face at the ten page form he was supposed to fill out...some rot about approving a delegation from Romania. Merlin, he hated his job sometimes. Still, it was better than nothing; even if the words ‘soul sucking vacuum of endless tedium’ came to mind more often than not...

His inner musings were suddenly interrupted when Potter barrelled into his work place. Draco looked up and frowned as Potter scrambled about the kitchen, glaring daggers and wrenching open cabinets. His hair was a mess and he looked pale and tired and very pissed off. Potter growled and slammed the cabinet shut, whirling around to face Draco.

“Problem?” Draco enquired, somewhat taken aback. He really didn’t know why Potter was in such a snit.

“We’re out of coffee,” Potter bit out. He scrubbed his hair viciously and glared at Draco who bristled slightly at the snappish tone. This was hardly his fault. He didn’t even drink Potter’s blighted coffee!

“That’s too bad,” he replied, pointedly ignoring Potter and looking over the file again. He was in no mood for a row. Whatever this tantrum was about, it was uncalled for and Draco wasn’t indulging it.

Potter however, was by no means done throwing a fit. He turned on Draco. “Bloody typical,” he spat. “Anytime I need something, it’s gone! Every damn time! Is a cup of coffee too much to ask for in the sodding morning? Is it?!”

Draco blinked at the sheer ferocity of Potter’s tirade. All this over coffee? “Look, Potter…”

“No! You know what? Forget it. Just...just fucking forget it! I’m going back to work!” He stormed out before throwing Draco one last scowl over his shoulder. “And use a damn chair, Malfoy. That’s what we have them for!”

Draco glared as Potter stomped off, still snarling about coffee and his apparent lack of it. Bloody tosser, Draco thought bitterly. And after things had been going so well too. Draco felt a hot surge of irrational anger. It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t done anything! Potter had no right to go off on him like that. What the hell was that about?

He alighted from the counter with every intention of going after Potter and demanding an explanation for that little display. He wasn’t in the study or the bedroom. The git was probably sulking on the couch. Draco squared his shoulders and marched over.

He stopped his in tracks as he caught sight of Potter.

Draco frowned. Something was….wrong. Potter was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, a case file on his lap. But he was clutching his head and his hands were shaking. Every now and then he shivered slightly. He looked so pale. Alarm bells went off in Draco’s head. Oh Merlin. This was bad. He needed to call someone. Granger? Yes, Granger. She was a Healer, she would know. She’d been helpful when Draco relapsed because of the…

The bond.

That thrice damned bond!

Draco could have kicked himself. The fucking bond! How could he have forgotten? He wasn’t the only one affected. Potter had reactions too. Apparently, he was having one now and the git hadn’t asked for help. The stupid, reckless idiot!

Potter whimpered in pain and clutched his head again. “Pull it together,” he rasped, apparently trying to talk himself out of the pain. “Come on, you can do this. Just get it together, Harry.”

Draco stayed still as a statue while Potter composed himself with a few deep breaths.

Good grief. Did this happen often? How long had Potter been in pain? Why hadn’t the idiot said anything?!

Unfortunately, he knew the answer to that all too well. Potter didn’t ask for help. Not if he could help it. Draco sighed wearily. Apparently, they did have something in common. 

But Potter had helped him anyway. And he was in pain now. Draco would be highly remiss not to return the favour. He just had to figure out a way to do it without raising Potter’s hackles.

This, right here, would be where all that Slytherin training came in handy.

So Draco approached, practically sauntering over — the picture of nonchalance. Potter scowled at him warily. “What?” he snapped.

“Nothing,” Draco replied smoothly, refusing to take the bait. “You’re in my spot, that’s all.”

Potter scowled belligerently. “If you think I’m moving…”

“I didn’t ask you to. It’s a big enough sofa.” With that, he flopped down next to Potter, turning his back against him and leaning against his shoulder. Potter stiffened at the sudden contact but Draco pointedly ignored him. Instead, he summoned his file from the kitchen and went back to work, making sure to lean further against Potter to maximise physical contact. Slowly and gradually, he felt Potter’s stiff frame relax. Draco breathed a sigh of relief. He could feel his own body responding to the bond, the tension was easing out. Potter would soon feel better, thank Merlin.

Crisis averted.

He started as a toned arm wrapped around his waist. Potter tightened his grip and pulled him closer, sighing slightly as Draco rested against his chest. Draco kept his eyes firmly on his file, refusing to acknowledge any of these recent happenings. Not to mention, the sensation of Potter’s toned chest against his back. Potter favoured a policy of silence on the matter, and he was fine with that.

“I shouldn’t have yelled back there,” Potter muttered after a while. “I just...really needed coffee.”

Draco nodded his understanding. They didn’t need to talk about it. “I’ll get some tomorrow,” he promised.

When Potter gave him a brief squeeze in a silent gesture of thanks, he smiled.

 


 

 

“Yeah, I see it,” Bill agreed, flipping through some more pictures. He paused at one and peered at it with interest. “These are definitely happier times.”

Harry smiled at the picture. In it, Draco was leaning against Harry and reading a novel. Picture Harry was obviously following along. His chin rested on Draco’s shoulder as he read. Every time Draco tried to turn a page, he would grab hold of his wrist. Eventually Picture Draco lost patience and whacked him on the head with the book.

“It wasn’t bad,” Harry replied with a grin. “Once we got a system in place, things just...worked out. You know, I don’t think anyone even noticed when we became friends.”

Bill smirked at that, but kept his mouth shut. From all the talk he had heard, people had definitely noticed. But maybe Harry didn’t need to hear that.

 


 

Not surprisingly, Narcissa was the first to notice something had changed. As a mother, she had a sort of sixth sense about these things.

She came to visit four months into the bond.  She had been beside herself with worry since the...incident but she had considered it prudent to keep her distance — even when the boys had ended up in the hospital. Fortunately, Hermione Weasley  (nee Granger) had the foresight to send her an owl, informing her that Draco was in no danger and would recover swiftly.

Bless that girl.

Narcissa had contented herself with writing to Draco every week and letting him know she was here for him, no matter what. Most of the time, his replies dismayed her. They were terse and detached and he pointedly refused to mention Harry Potter at all. Narcissa suspected that he was trying to put up a brave front, but a mother could see through these things. There was no doubt that Draco was stressed and unhappy.

But over time, she noticed a change in the tone of his letters. He sounded...better. Not happy exactly, no. But he had started speaking more about the little things. Work was dull and unrewarding but at least he wasn’t flying off the bat every five minutes like Potter. Potter insisted on watching a ‘movie’ tonight, whatever that was. It wasn’t so bad. Could she send over his old school broom? Potter had suggested a Seeker’s match and it had been a while so…

Well. How about that?

Finally, Narcissa had deemed it safe enough to visit.

Her suspicions were confirmed in ten minutes flat.

“I do hope you’re well, darling,” Narcissa commented as she watched Draco carefully. He put the kettle on and turned to her with a reassuring smile. “You look a little pale,” she added with a worried frown.

“Nothing to worry about, mum,” he replied. “It’s just…”

“Oi, Draco!”

Both Narcissa and Draco jumped at the sudden exclamation. Harry Potter promptly barrelled into the kitchen, frowning over a piece of parchment and missing Narcissa completely.

“I’m leaving now so if you want something else, put it on the list. Also, what the hell is a melano? Why do you even want it? It sounds like a skin condition. I’m not spending an hour looking for it, just so you know. And…”

Draco pointedly cleared his throat. Harry stopped his rambling and frowned at him. “What?”

Draco gestured over to Narcissa, apparently fighting for a straight face. “Harry, I believe you’ve met my mother?” 

Narcissa had to stifle a laugh as Harry whirled around. His eyes widened and he went scarlet as he caught sight of her. Narcissa rose and extended a hand, hoping to put the poor boy out of his misery. “Mr Potter. It’s been too long.”

Harry moved forward to take her hand. “So much for first impressions. It’s wonderful seeing you again, Mrs Malfoy. I trust you’re doing well?”

Polite. And rather sweet, she thought. “I thought I’d drop by for a visit,” she explained. “But you were on your way out?”

“Just a spot of shopping. I would have taken care of it before if someone had mentioned you were coming over,” he replied, giving Draco a pointed glare. Draco smirked as he tended to his tea. Narcissa observed the oddly domestic scene in keen silence.

Well. This was interesting…

“How long will you be gone?” Draco asked suddenly.

“I don’t know, a couple hours maybe? Why?”

Draco cleared his throat and shifted slightly, fiddling with a cup. “Oh. No, it’s nothing. I just…”

Harry frowned and Narcissa’s brow creased. “What is it?” Harry prodded.

Draco shrugged evasively. “Just a...headache, that’s all.”

Narcissa rose at once, alarmed. “I thought you looked pale,” she whispered. Oh heavens, curse this bond! Where was the floo? She needed to call a Healer at once...

“Why didn’t you say something?” Harry demanded. He dropped the list and moved towards Draco at once, a firm hand resting on his shoulder. He squeezed gently, green eyes filled with concern. Narcissa’s attention snapped back to them. Draco sighed in relief and leaned into Harry’s touch. Harry took a seat next to him, keeping a hand firmly in place on Draco’s back.

“It’s not that bad.”

“But it gets worse. You know that.”

“I can handle it,” Draco insisted stubbornly.

Harry started rubbing soothing circles in his back. “Or I could just go when you’re feeling better,” he replied in a tone that brooked no argument.

Draco scowled and shook his head, apparently intent on being obstinate. “I don’t need a caretaker, Potter,” he snapped.

Harry however, wasn’t taking no for an answer. “I’d rather stay, if it’s all the same to you,” he retorted. Then he grinned teasingly and jostled Draco. “Besides, I’ve been meaning to catch up with your mum. I’ll bet she’s got loads of embarrassing stories from when you were a kid.”

“Mum wouldn’t tell you anything,” Draco grumbled. But he subsided and stayed where he was without argument. No more insisting that he was fine and Harry should leave.

Narcissa watched them— a tad stunned and still unsure — but Harry’s eyes met hers and he offered a discreet nod. Draco would be fine. There was no need to worry. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The silent message could have been said out loud for how clear it was.

Narcissa nodded back, silently conveying how grateful she was. Harry smiled and pulled out a chair for her. “Yes, she will,” he informed Draco with a smug grin . “So Mrs Malfoy, did he suck his thumb when he was little? Do you have any pictures?”

“Mum, do not answer that.”

Narcissa smiled and sat down with them, launching into a story despite Draco’s vehement protests. For the first time in months, she felt at ease. Her son was safe.

For that, Harry Potter could have the Manor if he wanted. All he had to do was ask.

  


 

 

Hermione had suspected for a while that something had changed. Harry looked better. His visits to the Burrow were sparing these days, what with the bond and everything, but at least he wasn’t actively plotting his husband’s demise any more. He smiled more too, or so Hermione thought, and when Malfoy came up in conversation, Harry seemed to project a fond exasperation instead of intense loathing.

So yes, she had a vague idea that they were doing better. But none of it was confirmed until movie night.

“Merlin, finally!” Ginny declared, sitting cross legged on Harry’s rug and balancing a bowl of popcorn on her lap. “It feels like forever since we’ve done this. Harry, why haven’t we been invited over to your place before?”

“You weren’t invited this time either,” Malfoy pointed out. “You just barged in and announced it was movie night.”

“Harry, your husband’s being an arse again.”

Harry blinked sleepily and rubbed his eyes, lifting his head to scowl at Malfoy. “Be nice,” he admonished.

Malfoy grinned and went back to staring intently at the film. Hermione suspected he was only paying close attention so he could make disparaging comments about it later. Harry however was barely awake. He was curled on his end of the sofa, looking like he would nod off any second.

Ron frowned at him. “What’s up, mate? You look tired.”

“He was up all night making case notes,” Malfoy answered with a slight sneer. Apparently, he didn’t think much of Harry’s late night work habits. “He’s wrecked.”

Harry glared and kicked at him. “I can speak for myself, thanks.”

“I know,” Malfoy conceded in an uncharacteristically patient tone. “I’m just saying...”

“I know. Sorry ‘bout that. I’m just tired, is all.”

Malfoy nodded and squeezed Harry’s ankle gently. The familiarity of the display was not lost on an observant girl like Hermione. She raised an eyebrow but made no comment. Ron and Ginny hadn’t noticed a thing, far too absorbed in the movie. Hermione smiled fondly. Evidently, obliviousness was a Weasley family trait. 

Halfway through the movie, Ginny perked up again. “Ooh, I love this part! Harry, remember when we watched this the first time? You…”

“Weaslette, hush.”

Ginny trailed off and turned around. Malfoy frowned at her and gestured to a sleeping Harry. Harry stirred slightly at the noise before turning and going back to sleep. He really did look tired, Hermione noted. But the fact that Malfoy’s hand was still on his ankle interested her more.

“Sorry,” Ginny whispered. “I didn’t know he was...”

Malfoy waved her off and got up. “He was out like a light twenty minutes into the movie. Turn the sound down on that thing, will you Weasley? I’ll get a blanket.”

“Get me one too!” Ginny called.

“Weaslette, shush!” Malfoy hissed as he stalked off.

Hermione fought a smile as Ginny turned to her, looking highly offended. “He shushed me!” she complained.

“I know,” Hermione replied, patting her shoulder. “I saw.”

 


 

 

Contrary to popular belief, Ron was not oblivious. In fact, he had noticed that something was up with Harry and Malfoy well before Hermione. However, no one would believe him if he said as much, so Ron just went with it.

It had been ridiculously obvious to him ever since the Quidditch match two months ago. Harry and Malfoy had just started ‘adjusting’ after that hospital meltdown so Ron had suggested a friendly game to pull down the stress a bit. Well, that and thanks to Malfoy, he hadn’t seen his best friend in a very long time. In hindsight, Ron may have been a bit peeved at Malfoy about that bit. The snarky git hadn’t exactly helped matters along. Eventually, their bickering got so out of hand that Ron had elected to play Beater for the match and punted a bludger right at Malfoy’s fat head.

Harry nearly tore a strip off him for that. He stopped the match and turned on Ron, raving about ‘foul play’ and ‘you didn’t have to hit him so hard’ and ‘what’s the matter with you, he just got out of the sodding hospital’.

So yes, Ron had suspected something had changed, thanks very much. He wasn’t happy about it but apparently Harry liked Malfoy’s head just the way it was. While Ron’s opinion on the matter greatly differed, the fact was the git was staying. Besides, Harry’s friendship mattered more to him than rowing with Malfoy, so Ron had learnt to deal.

He didn’t necessarily think of them as a couple though. For one thing, they just lived together. Like flatmates. For another thing, gross.

That changed when he went to see Harry at his flat one day.

Malfoy had made himself scarce for a bit, so that was good. Harry had mentioned the headaches were less frequent and they could actually spend a few hours apart before the bond started acting up now. Ron was relieved about that. The sooner they got rid of the bond, the sooner they’d get rid of Malfoy.

“Come on in, mate,” Harry called from the kitchen. “I just got breakfast ready.”

Ron obediently made his way to the kitchen. Harry greeted him with a wave before going back to frying the eggs. “Grab a plate,” he suggested. “Top cabinet.”

Ron selected a plate and settled down. “So how are things?” he asked. “You know, with Malfoy?”

“Not so bad,” Harry replied with a shrug. “We still fight, but honestly it’s been…”

Ron looked up as Harry trailed off. “What?” he asked. Harry was staring at the plate with an expression closely resembling fear.

“Ron,” he intoned with forced calm. “You need to find another plate.”

Ron blinked.

What?

“What?” he echoed.

“Not that one,” Harry insisted. “That one’s Draco’s. Trust me, you don’t want to go down that road. Take another plate.”

“Another plate,” Ron repeated blankly. “Why?”

“Because you’re my best friend and I don’t want you to die.”

Ron was having a bit of trouble processing this. “You’re telling me I can’t use this plate —  the plate which by the way, is no different from any other plate in that cabinet —  because Malfoy will kill me?”

“That’s right.”

“I see. And...at what point exactly, did you realise that you married a lunatic?”

“Day four.”

Of course. Ron shook his head and got up again. He put the plate away— carefully— and picked out another one. Harry heaved a sigh of relief and went back to his cooking.

“Hermione has a favourite mug,” Ron spoke up again. “I’m not allowed to touch it.”

They shared commiserating grins as Harry dished out the eggs. Halfway through breakfast, Ron realised that they had actually shared a moment of understanding over their spouses. Like it was normal. And real. He also realised that there was a very good chance Malfoy would still be around, even if the bond wasn’t. It was certainly starting to look that way.

Ron shook his head and went back to his breakfast. He would deal with it.

That’s what he did best.

 


 

Pansy wasn’t the sort to sit around and speculate. If there was one thing Slytherin had taught her, it was to read situations quickly and react to them instantly and decisively. Failure to act quickly meant lost opportunity and that was something no Slytherin could abide. Take a shot. Go for it. Those were the only rules Pansy believed in.

Therefore, it took her all of three minutes to convince Draco and Potter that they’d be better off going clubbing than staying at home on a Saturday night.

“I don’t know how you talked me into this, Parkinson,” Potter grumbled as they entered the club. He had to raise his voice as the music grew louder. “But I’m not ruling out Imperio.”

Draco smirked. “She can be very persuasive,” he agreed. “Really Pansy, do we have to? I was in the middle of something before you dragged us out, you know.”

“Your scribbles and doodles can wait a night, Draco,” Pansy informed him as she tugged at her dress and let the slinky material drop an inch or two. A few of the club patrons immediately swiveled around to eye her appreciatively. Pansy smirked and strutted forward, leaving her reluctant companions no choice but to grudgingly follow. “Besides, it’s Saturday night and we are young, attractive people. Are you telling me you’d rather sit at home like some old married couple?”

“Yes,” they chanted together.

“Well, too bad,” Pansy snapped. “We’re going to drink and dance and have a hell of a good time, and you are going to like it!”

There was some grumbling but they followed her obediently to the bar. Pansy took a minute to look Draco over. He seemed to be doing alright as far as she could tell. Truth be told, she had been worried. Draco was her best friend in the whole world and no, she wasn’t going to get all sappy about it like Potter and his little lemmings, but a girl likes to be on top of things. As far as she could tell by that disaster of a wedding, Draco needed all the help he could get.

Now however, she wasn’t so sure. Draco seemed...oddly happy. He was chatting easily with Potter and she hadn’t missed any of those brief touches and lingering gazes. A hand on the shoulder, a subtle nudge here, a quiet smile there...and Potter seemed to return the attention ten fold. Of course there was that whole bothersome bond business but it certainly looked like…

“...you like?”

Pansy jerked out of her musings and blinked at Draco. “Sorry?”

Draco smirked and gestured to the dance floor. “I asked if you saw anyone you liked, Pans.”

“Oh.” Pansy swiveled around her bar stool to get a better look. A stocky brunet hovering in the corner grinned at her and raised his glass, inviting her to join him. She rolled her eyes and turned back to her friends. “Not really, no.”

“Mm,” Draco replied nonchalantly. “I suppose not. But if I see any tall, lanky redheads sporting the classic dragonhide and ear stud ensemble, I’ll let you know.”

Pansy sputtered indignantly. “Excuse me?”

“Draco,” Potter admonished, nudging a grinning Draco.

“What?” Draco drawled innocently. “I’m just saying I know her...type.”

“I do not have a type,” Pansy grumbled. “And you shut up.”

“I hear he’s single now,” Draco replied, twirling his glass around. Pansy sniffed, feigning disinterest. It did pique her interest, but Draco hardly needed to know that.

Potter — being the chivalrous, decent sort — was not done scolding Draco. “Leave her be,” he said firmly, giving Draco a slight push. “And let Bill handle this on his own.”

“He needs to get out more,” Draco argued. Potter gave him a meaningful look and he subsided. “Fine, fine. I try to do something nice and…”

“Harry? Is that you?”

They whirled around at the sudden intrusion. Justin Finch Fletchley — Pansy vaguely remembered referring to him as a ‘mewling Hufflepuff shrew’ back in fourth year — grinned brightly and elbowed his way over to Potter. “Isn’t this a surprise?” he gushed, taking Potter’s hand. “I haven’t seen you in years!”

Potter smiled and shook the proffered hand politely. “Nice seeing you, Justin. You remember Pansy and Draco from Hogwarts?”

Justin favoured the rest of the table with a disparaging glance. “Oh yes, of course,” he sniffed. “I heard about your...situation. Most unfortunate.”

Pansy felt Draco stiffen beside her. She reached out to squeeze his knee reflexively. Draco replied with a discreet nod but kept a steely gaze trained on the former Hufflepuff.

“We really should catch up sometime, Harry,” Justin prattled. “Let me buy you a drink?”

“He already has a drink,” Draco cut in. His tone was calm but there was...something about it that set Pansy on edge. After all, Draco had learnt the art of subtle condescension from the very best. Pansy raised her own glass to hide a smirk.

“I do, actually,” Potter agreed, gesturing to his glass. “But thanks anyway, Justin.”

Justin waved off his protests. “Well, I simply can’t let you off like that, Harry. We have to catch up. How about a dance then?” He turned to Draco and smirked. “You won’t mind if I steal him away for a bit, will you?”

Draco smiled back. Pansy was somewhat surprised that their glasses hadn’t frosted over. “You can try,” he replied.

“Challenge accepted,” Justin purred, pulling a somewhat flabbergasted Harry along. “Come on, Harry. Don’t worry. I’ll return you to your ‘friends’ in one piece.”

Potter gave Pansy a bewildered look as he was tugged away. “I’ll...be right back,” he managed and then he was gone, disappearing into the crowd on the floor. Pansy kept her eyes trained on them. Every now and then, she caught a glimpse of them under the strobe lights. Potter was shuffling awkwardly, trying and failing to keep an increasingly bold Justin from getting too close.

“Handsy little thing,” Pansy quipped as Justin looped an arm around Potter, grinding against him now.

“Bloody Hufflepuffs,” Draco muttered, glaring daggers at the two. “Subtlety is all but lost on them.”

“In this case, more might be less, darling,” Pansy commented. Justin was getting a bit too close for comfort. Apparently, Draco thought so too. He sneered and downed the rest of his drink. “Harry can handle himself,” he muttered. “It’s certainly not my business who he chooses to dance with.”

“Of course. But you do know that Finch-Fletchley works for The Prophet, right?”

“What?” Draco’s gaze snapped back to her, instantly alert.

“Those horrible tabloid pieces Skeeter used to write,” Pansy commented with a grimace. “He’s a bit worse, actually.”

Draco’s mouth twisted in distaste. “You think he’s…”

“Trying to get a story out of Potter? Of course I do. You two are the hot topic these days, you know. The Prophet has been printing tripe ever since your wedding. You can’t tell me you missed it.”

“You know I don’t read the bloody Prophet. And Harry hates that bilge.”

“Well, that’s not going to stop them.” Pansy craned her neck for a better look at the dance floor. “I see a headline in the making.” She tutted disapprovingly. “Typical Potter. Can’t stay out of the spotlight for a second…”

“It’s not like that,” Draco snapped. Pansy raised an eyebrow at him and he bristled defensively. “Well, It’s not,” he repeated firmly. “He’s...he’s really not the type to invite attention. And I know for a fact that he doesn’t want any from the sodding Prophet.”

Now, this was interesting. Pansy made a mental note to study that rare display of emotion later. For the time being, she merely shrugged carelessly. “Well then, you better do something about it. Or your husband’s going to end up on the front page.”

The words were barely out of her mouth when she noticed something going awry. Finch-Fletchley stiffened suddenly. He visibly paled and hurriedly detached himself from Potter. A second later, he was scurrying away like a pack of wolves were chasing him. Draco smirked and stashed his wand away before anyone could see.

“That should do it,” he smirked.

“What did you…”

“Oh, nothing. Just a little variation of that spell we used on Theo in Fifth Year.”

Pansy clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter. “You didn’t!”

Draco shrugged, looking rather pleased with himself. “I doubt he’ll be out of the loo long enough to bother Harry again.”

“Well done,” Pansy complimented, raising her glass in a toast. “And may I say, I’m very glad that I’m on your side.” She clinked her glass with Draco’s and smiled softly as she caught his gaze wandering over to Potter again. “You know,” she said, leaning over and lowering her voice for his benefit. “I don’t think I trust Potter not to get himself accosted again. Maybe you should stick close, just in case.”

“I suppose that makes...sense,” Draco replied, nodding slowly. “I hardly want to be a Prophet exclusive.”

“Exactly my point,” Pansy replied, hiding a smirk of her own. “Go on then. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Draco smiled and squeezed her hand gently before taking his leave. Pansy watched him make his way over to Potter. She also noticed the way Potter lit up when he saw Draco coming over. He smiled and extended an arm to tug him closer, leaning in to whisper something in his ear. Draco grinned and pushed him gently, making Potter laugh. Pansy shook her head. It was so bleeding obvious that…

“Excuse me.”

She turned around as the brunet she’d noticed earlier came over and smiled. “You know, I noticed you the second you walked in.” He wasn’t a bad looking bloke, actually. And he seemed nice enough. She smiled politely and he grinned back, taking it as a sign of encouragement. “I’d love to buy you a drink,” he said earnestly. “Maybe get to know you a bit better?”

He was nice. Charming. Polite. There was literally no reason in the world for her to say no. And yet, Pansy’s gaze strayed back to Draco and Potter. She saw the way they looked at each other, the way they smiled more often when the other was near. She saw Draco loop his arms around Potter as they moved to the rhythm. It was hardly the most sensual display she had seen, but something about the way Potter’s arm rested on Draco’s back, holding him close...it stuck with her. It was different. Intimate. She liked that. She wanted that.

“I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I’m waiting for someone.”

The bloke took it in good spirit and left. Pansy stirred her drink carelessly, still watching the two on the floor. She couldn’t help but think that life could be a bit unfair sometimes. Some people struggled to find that one person they could happily spend the rest of their lives with. And then there were those who have that person and are either too blind or too stubborn to see it.

Sometime in the near future, Pansy resolved to take Draco aside and knock some sense into his stupid, stubborn head.

 


 

Six months. It was hard to wrap his head around it. By the time Christmas had come around, Harry had actually been married for six whole months. To Draco.

It was baffling.

And yet, as he sat here with Bill still flipping through the pictures, it didn’t feel that strange.

Somehow in that time, things had changed. All those fights and arguments, the mistrust and the resentment had given way to...something else.

Bickering over shopping lists and who would cook dinner next.

Movie nights with friends where Draco’s snarky, unimpressed commentary had apparently become a feature. Once, Draco had been too busy with work to join in and Ginny had actually switched the telly off, declaring that it wasn’t as much fun without Malfoy jabbering in the background.

Hermione and Draco engaging in spirited debates on the latest werewolf legislation at the Ministry while Harry and Ron gave each other long suffering looks.

Walks in the park that led to impromptu Seeker’s games. Letting Draco win a game so he wouldn’t sulk all day. Losing a game to Draco and sulking all day.

Quiet, lazy mornings where neither of them had much to say and Harry would just read a book while Draco sketched in comfortable silence.

Listening to Draco gripe about his job.

A hand on the shoulder and a quiet voice reminding Harry to get some sleep when he worked too late.

It was all here. No matter how many pages he turned, there were more.

Draco was everywhere he looked. He had left his mark all over Harry’s life. And no matter how much he tried to deny it, Harry knew it had been a good life.

Harry gazed at the smiling people staring back at him from those pages. He looked...happy. Content.

When had that happened? He really didn’t know.

And more importantly, why had he...let it end? He didn’t think he knew that either.

“Oh look, Christmas snaps!” Bill announced suddenly. He grinned at Harry and tapped smartly at one of the pictures. “I’ll bet you’ve got a few good stories for these ones too, eh?”

 Harry followed the trail of his finger over to the picture. His throat clenched painfully.

That wasn’t a story he wanted to remember.

 


 

“Noo Year! Noo Year!”

“Teddy, New Years is three days away. Can you hold still for me? Just a minute?”

“Fa fa la la la.”

“That’s not even…” Draco trailed off and put down his sketchbook, giving his baby cousin a flat look. “You’re just messing with me now, aren’t you?”

Teddy giggled and clambered off the stool, making a beeline for Harry. Harry grinned and held out his arms, just in time. A second later, he had an excited toddler wrapped around him. “Hey there, Teddy Bear,” he cooed, kissing his godson affectionately. “Having fun?"

Teddy giggled and pointed at Draco, shooting him a naughty grin and promptly hiding in the crook of Harry’s neck. Draco’s lips twitched and he shook his head. “I rest my case.”

Harry laughed. “He’s a kid, Draco,” he pointed out. “You can’t expect him to sit still for that long.”

“He would if you asked him to,” Draco replied with a soft smile. “You’ve got a way with him.”

Harry flushed at the semi-compliment. There seemed to be a lot of those floating around these days. He didn’t think Draco even realised it, but every now and then he would slip something...nice about Harry in conversation. Sometimes he wondered if...was Draco flirting? But no...no, of course not. That was ridiculous. Why would he…? It was just the season, that was all. Peace on earth, goodwill to man, that sort of thing.

Come to think of it, Christmas had been brilliant this time around. As it turned out, Draco actually took the season very seriously. The flat was decked out, there was a tree, and for the first time in a long while, Harry had actually celebrated a traditional Christmas instead of lounging around by himself. They’d had their friends over for the evening and, defying all expectations, the assorted Gryffindors and Slytherins had actually behaved themselves. Harry had been rather amused to observe Ginny and Zabini smiling shyly at each other before deciding to take off early. The rest of the evening was a blur of carols and egg nog and festivity. It had been….well,  pretty great, actually.

The way things were going, the New Year was shaping up to be just as good. There was no big party seeing that they were babysitting while Andromeda stayed with her sister for a few days, but Harry didn’t mind. Having Teddy around definitely put a spin on things.

“Daco!” Teddy declared suddenly, grappling for his cousin with chubby arms.

“Well, look at that,” Harry grinned as Teddy squirmed urgently in his arms.

Draco smirked and took the baby from Harry, cradling him with practiced ease. “Jealous?” he teased. Teddy batted at Draco’s cheek and Draco smiled, kissing his forehead and murmuring affectionately. Harry smiled as he watched them together. Now that he was really looking at them, he could see the family resemblance — high cheekbones, sharp features, pale skin…

Well, either that or Teddy just wanted to look like Draco today. His hair was still dark and messy though, so he looked a bit like both of them.

It was a good look, Harry thought.

He wondered if…

“Harry.”

Draco’s voice startled him and Harry blinked. Draco grinned at him, sitting on the rug with Teddy and sifting through a pile of blocks.

“Are you going to stand there all day? Come on, we’re building Hogwarts.”

Harry smiled back and settled down to join them. His train of thought was taking some strange turns these days. He should probably look into that.

But for now, he had more important things to worry about. There was absolutely no way he was going to let Draco build the Gryffindor Tower out of green blocks.

 


 

 

Twenty minutes to midnight. Twenty minutes and he would be bidding farewell to the strangest year of his life. Although, if life with Draco was anything to go by, the New Year would be just as crazy. Harry found himself grinning in anticipation as he padded off in search of the blond. Was he still putting Teddy to bed? They’d been gone for ages...

Harry made his way to the little room quietly, stopping in his tracks as he spotted Draco hovering over a sleeping Teddy, sketchbook in hand and brow drawn in concentration. Harry shook his head in amused exasperation.

“You don’t give up, do you?” he whispered as he moved to stand alongside Draco.

Draco didn’t look up but a faint smile tugged at his lips. “He’s an interesting subject,” he replied. “Besides, he’s finally staying put for over a minute and a half. I’m taking my shot, thanks very much.”

Point taken. Harry stood by in silence, watching Draco work. His hands moved quickly and efficiently over the parchment, sketching, smudging, drawing and redrawing the lines. His brow was furrowed and his eyes held an expression of immense focus. Harry got the impression that if the house collapsed around them at this very moment, Draco probably wouldn’t notice.

“You really like that, don’t you?”

“Hm?” Draco mumbled, obviously distracted.

“Sketching. Drawing. The whole art thing.”

“Oh, this? It’s just a hobby.”

Harry gaped incredulously at Draco’s careless shrug. “Just a hobby?” he blurted. Teddy immediately stirred, mumbling in his sleep.

“Potter, shh!” Draco hissed. “You’ll wake him and then I’ll never finish this.”

“Sorry,” Harry whispered back. “But see, that...that right there’s what I’m talking about. You put your all into this. I hardly ever see you doing anything else.”

“So?” Draco sounded a bit defensive now. His mouth tightened and his shoulders went back. “I like sketching. Is that so wrong?”

“Of course not,” Harry placated. “I’m just saying...well, you’re really passionate about it. Aren’t you?”

“I…”  Draco faltered for a second. He sighed and shook his head. “It’s just a hobby, Potter. That’s all.”

“Will you show me?” He had no idea why he asked. Draco obviously didn’t want to share this part of his life. But Harry was oddly curious. What was there in the pages of that elusive sketchbook that never left Draco’s side? He couldn’t explain it but a part of him desperately wanted to know.

Draco however, went stiff as a board. “You...what?” He sounded incredulous. As if he couldn’t believe what Harry had just said. That Harry, that anyone would be interested in his sketches.

“Show me,” Harry repeated quietly but firmly. “I want to see them.”

The tense silence lasted a whole minute. Finally, Draco shut the book with a snap and turned to him. His eyes were guarded and wary, and Harry was half expecting him to yell or at the very least, refuse vehemently. So he was rather surprised when Draco started walking away with a quiet “Come with me” thrown over his shoulder.

The library. They were going to the library. Draco stopped in front of the closed door, his fingers lingering on the doorknob. Harry strove to keep a neutral expression. He had never set foot in the library once Draco had ‘appropriated’ it. It was one of those unspoken rules. Draco had wanted that space just for himself and Harry had respected that. Except now, Draco was going to let him in. It was hard to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, but he suspected that if he said so much as a word about it Draco would put up a Locking Charm and bar the door shut for good measure.

And Harry really, really didn’t want that. He had to see what was on the other side of the door.

“I’ve never shown them to anyone before,” Draco whispered. His voice was quiet but the tremor of uncertainty was unmistakable.

“I know,” Harry replied softly.

“They’re not very good,” Draco insisted. “So don’t expect too much…”

“Draco,” His voice was soft but resolute. A firm, solid presence for Draco’s benefit. “Open the door.”

Draco took a deep breath and obeyed. Harry stepped in and cast a Lumos.

His first impression was complete and total chaos. Harry actually took a step back. The light from his wand settled a bit and he realised the paintings in front of him weren’t actually moving. They just... looked like it.

These were scenes from Quidditch. Aidan Kieley from the Kenmare Kestrels, just seconds before he caught the Snitch. And that was Wilda Griffiths aiming the Quaffle. Oh, and that was definitely Viktor Krum dodging a Bludger. Draco had managed to capture Krum’s look of absolute concentration, right down to the pursed lips and strained tic in his jaw. Not one of them was moving, and yet he felt like they would at any moment. Harry actually winced in sympathy. That Bludger was definitely going to knock Krum off his broom.

There were others that drew Harry’s attention. A centaur in the forest, his expression stern and guarded —  on the lookout for trespassers. A steely eyed hippogriff, wings flared and poised for attack. Harry had to suppress a smile at that. Evidently, someone was still a bit miffed at Buckbeak. A unicorn in a forest glade, shimmering and ethereal, but the dark, murky background seemed to suggest another presence, an element of danger. Harry shivered. He had a feeling he knew where Draco got the inspiration for that particular piece.

He certainly found some of them...unsettling, but it didn’t turn him off  as much as it intrigued him. They just drew him in. It was all in the details, the painstaking effort that Draco had put into recreating these images in his own hand.

They were amazing. All of them. They were just…

“So?”

Draco’s quiet question broke into the silence, startling Harry. He tore his gaze from the wall and turned around. Draco watched him carefully, gauging his reaction. “What do you think?” he asked again, insistently this time.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Harry replied.

“It does.” Draco crossed his arms, looking defensive and strangely vulnerable all of a sudden. Something about the sight sent a pang through Harry’s heart. “Please, Harry,” Draco insisted. “Just be honest, okay?”

Harry reached out and pulled Draco closer, wrapping an arm around his waist. The sensation of Draco’s slim body against his own sent a frisson of excitement through him. Harry would have liked to think it was just the bond playing up again. But somehow, he knew that wasn’t it. Not now, not here — with Draco leaning against him, the dim light playing against his sharp features, sharing something so personal and intimate with Harry — this was...something else. It was...

“Beautiful,” Harry said softly. “All of them.”

“You’re just saying that.”

Harry’s grip tightened. “I wouldn’t lie to you,” he said firmly. “Not about this.”

Draco relaxed slightly, leaning into him. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw a slight smile tug at his lips. “You’re not exactly an expert,” he said finally. “A trained artist would be more critical.”

“Maybe,” Harry conceded. “I just know what I like, that’s all.”

Draco smirked. “You, Potter, are ridiculously simplistic.”

“And you’re the most complicated person I know,” Harry chuckled. “I don’t understand you at all. Why are you even wasting your time at the Ministry when you can do something like this?”

“That’s my job.”

“You hate it there,” Harry pointed out. “Sometimes, I think this is the only thing that keeps you going.”

Draco considered that. “It is,” he replied thoughtfully. “But this is just a hobby, Harry. I can’t...I can’t quit my job and paint all day.”

“Why not?” Harry turned Draco around to face him, his hands resting comfortably on Draco’s shoulders. Draco didn’t resist but Harry could see the hesitance in his eyes. Honestly, he just didn’t get Draco sometimes. How could someone so self assured and confident be this unsure of himself? It was baffling, really. Harry smiled in fond exasperation and traced his thumb against Draco’s cheek. “Look,” he said, meeting Draco’s doubtful gaze steadily. “This...this has been a weird year for me. A really, really weird year.”

Draco grinned at that. “You don’t say,” he drawled, nudging Harry gently.

“And I’m not going to lie, you’re a nightmare to live with. The worst, actually. In fact, I...ouch!” He squawked in pain as Draco punched his shoulder. “Don’t hit… Draco, I wasn’t finished!”

Draco responded with a rather impressive death glare but he subsided. “Go on,” he growled, almost daring Harry to finish that train of thought.

Harry grinned and rubbed his shoulder before obliging him. “As I was saying, you’re tough. And weird. And you do this really annoying foot tapping thing when you sit still for too long. But all of that is okay, because there’s more.” His hand shifted to Draco’s waist and he pulled him closer. “You’re also ridiculously smart. And passionate. And you’ve got this...this unique way of looking at things that’s just amazing. It’s all right here on these walls. This works for you, and I just think you should do what works for you. I don’t want you to look back twenty years down the line and wish you’d done things differently.”

“It’s not that simple,” Draco whispered. His arms wrapped around Harry and he moved in, resting his head against Harry’s chest. “It’s…not just me I have to think about.”

“What do you mean?”

Draco’s grip tightened on his shirt. “Father always wanted me to…” He was struggling to put it into words. Harry waited patiently. He could wait. Draco took a minute or two before trying again. “Before he...passed away, he made me promise I’d do whatever I could to restore the family name. The Ministry isn’t perfect but if I stick around long enough...”

“If you stick around long enough, you’ll be miserable. Is that what you want?”

“Of course not. But…”

“Draco…” Harry hesitated. How on earth was he supposed to argue with that without sounding like an insensitive arse? Finally, he decided to just go for it. “Lucius has been gone a really long time. You’ve done right by him. I think...I think he would have understood.”

“No, he wouldn’t. And I’d like to  think I knew my own Father better than you.”

“I’m just saying, your entire life is a lot to ask for. Lucius knew when to cut a deal. I think he’d be okay if you did something just for you after all this time. I really do.”

“But…”

“No. Don’t do this. In two minutes, we’ll be ringing in the New Year. New year, new beginnings. All of this will be behind us soon. You won’t be stuck here forever in this little flat with me messing up your stuff and stealing your magazines. Just promise me you’ll think about it, okay?”

Draco said nothing for a while, but he didn’t move away or storm off. Good enough, Harry supposed. He traced a hand down Draco’s back, reassuring him the only way he knew how. It seemed to help a bit. Draco relaxed slightly under his touch.

“Do you really think I can do it?” he asked finally.

Harry smiled. “It doesn’t matter what I think. But for what it’s worth, yes. Yes, I do. I...”

Draco’s head lifted off his chest and the rest of Harry’s speech fizzled out as stormy silver eyes stared right into his. Draco’s tongue darted out to lick at his bottom lip, and he leaned forward. Harry’s breath hitched. Draco was so close that Harry could see the faint dusting of freckles on his nose and cheekbones. Gods, he was beautiful...

“It has always mattered,” Draco whispered. And then he closed the distance between them and his lips pressed against Harry’s.

Harry’s eyes widened and he stumbled. His arm automatically tightened against Draco, pulling him closer. All the while, Draco’s soft lips plied his mouth in a manner that could almost be considered innocent— if it wasn’t for the decidedly not innocent reactions Harry was experiencing. Sparks flew down his spine and his entire body thrummed with sudden awakened arousal. All this from a simple, barely there brush of the lips?

Bloody hell.

And then Draco faltered, apparently unsure of Harry’s reaction. He drew back slightly, breaking the kiss and trying to pull out of Harry’s reach.

Harry moved instinctively. His fingers threaded through Draco’s hair, drawing him back. Draco managed a small gasp of surprise as their lips met for the second time and Harry pushed a little harder, letting his tongue trace Draco’s bottom lip. It was stupid, he knew it was. In their situation, it was just mental. But Harry couldn’t think about that right now. Not now that he finally had Draco here, just the way he’d wanted him for so damn long…

Draco’s fingers worked nimbly, slipping under his shirt. Harry hissed as long fingers traced against his skin. His own hands crept down to cup Draco’s arse. Harry groaned and squeezed gently. Fuck, Draco’s arse felt as good as it looked. And Merlin, they really, really needed to stop before they did something they regretted. Well, Harry didn’t think he’d regret any of it but Draco…

“Draco.” It took every Gryffindor bone in his body but he managed to dredge up the remains of his self restraint. “We shouldn’t…”

Draco however, wasn’t having it. “You said it yourself,” he cut in impatiently, his hands working Harry’s trousers now. “We don’t have much time left. This...it doesn’t have to mean anything. We’re just making it easier on ourselves.” Harry wanted to protest, to say that he didn’t think this was the bond at all but Draco was staring right at him now— all kiss swollen lips and pleasure blown pupils and Merlin, why was he fighting this?

“Harry.” Draco’s voice was harsh with arousal. “Right now, all I know is that I want this. I want you. Do you want me?”

As he spoke, his hand dipped into Harry’s pants and wrapped around his cock. One light squeeze and Harry’s blood surged. If Draco was going to play it like that, there was no way he was winning this one. Besides, he made a good point. Wasn’t this the whole point of the bond? This was just one more thing they were doing. It would be fine.

That night, with Draco’s moans echoing in his ears and soft, smooth skin slipping under his own, he believed it. It was just the bond, just one more thing. It would be easier, better like this. And if a small part of him insisted that he was missing something important here, Harry didn’t bother with it.

Someday the bond would end, and they would go their separate ways just like they were supposed to. But until then, they had this.

That was okay.

It was.

 


 

 

Harry shut the book with a loud slam. He took  a deep, shaky breath, but it didn’t help. Something was simmering inside him, dangerously close to the surface. Something angry and cold and bitter. He couldn’t let it out. He had to stop this now and looking at the damn pictures wasn’t going to help.

“Harry? What...”

“We’re done, Bill.”

His voice was unsteady. Everything was coming back. He never should have looked at those damn pictures at all...

“Harry...”

“We’re done,” Harry repeated, wincing at the somewhat frantic note in his voice. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Bill squeezed his shoulder gently, his tone chiding but understanding. “You can’t run from this anymore, you know.”

“I’m not running…”

“Aren’t you?” The hand on his shoulder tightened and Bill fixed him with an unrelenting stare. “Harry, it’s taken you this long to even look at these pictures. You haven’t dealt with this. You’ve...you’ve just been sitting here and pretending it didn’t happen. That’s not going to help, believe me. I’ve been there.”

“This is different,” Harry countered angrily. “It’s nothing like you and Fleur! Don’t you get it? It wasn’t real! It was never real, Bill!”

“Harry, come on…”

But Harry wasn’t listening. Now — after all this time, after days and weeks of keeping his emotions in check, after stashing away every thought and every memory of Draco into a small, dark corner of his mind just like those stupid fucking boxes— it was just too much. It was all letting loose inside him, all the hurt and resentment and the despair. All the unresolved questions. Everything he hadn’t dared to admit out loud even to himself was suddenly unleashing itself, right on top of an unsuspecting Bill, apparently. And there was nothing Harry could do to stop it.

“If it was real, he wouldn’t have left! Don’t you understand? He left, Bill. He wanted to leave! He couldn’t wait to get the hell away from me! Even after…after all we...”

After all we went through together. After everything we had. After everything he meant to me.

And damn it, that was the point, wasn’t it? He just hadn’t meant as much to Draco. If he had, Draco would have stayed. Some things were just that painfully simple.

“It’s never that simple,” Bill replied firmly. Harry started, belatedly realizing that he’d been talking out loud. “Harry, did you ever consider that maybe he thought you’re the one who wanted to move on?”

Harry managed a choked little laugh and slumped against the couch. He was just so damn tired. “Why? Why would he think that? How could he not have known that I…”

That I needed him.

“How could you expect him to know?” Bill asked gently. “You didn’t figure it out until two minutes ago.”

He didn’t believe that. He couldn’t believe that. “You weren’t there,” he said, and if his voice lacked conviction so fucking what? Bill didn’t know everything...

“So tell me.”

He really didn’t want to. No part of him wanted to revisit that night. But there was a chance Bill was right. Maybe he had been avoiding this for too damn long. Draco had obviously moved on. Why shouldn’t he? So Harry picked up the scrapbook again and flipped over to the very end. When he spoke up, his voice was hollow.

“It...it happened on Draco’s birthday.”

  


 

 

“A toast!” Pansy declared, swaying precariously as she clinked her glass. “To sticking it to the sodding Ministry!”

“Hear, hear,” Hermione agreed, raising her own glass. “And to Malfoy, for finally taking the big leap.”

“Towards unemployment,” Ron chimed in, dodging an admonishing slap on the arm from his wife. “What?” he squawked, rubbing his shoulder. “All the best artists starve! Tell her, Malfoy.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Weasley. I can always count on you to make me feel better.”

“I’m here for you, mate.”

Harry chuckled and squeezed Draco’s shoulders. “He means congratulations,” he said, giving Ron a pointed look. “You’re very brave for doing this.”

“For Merlin’s sake,” Draco grumbled. “It’s just an enrolment at the French Academy for Art and Culture. No need to make a whole production out of it.”

“It is a big deal,” Harry replied firmly. “You’re doing something brilliant and we’re celebrating whether you like it or not.”

He smiled when Draco’s fingers squeezed around his hand. “Thank you,” Draco whispered. Harry traced the pad of his thumb against Draco’s nape, gently teasing the bite mark he’d left the night before. Draco shivered against his touch and Harry’s grin widened. Sex with Draco was brilliant but knowing how good he made it for Draco... well, that was just intoxicating. He half wished he could kick everyone out right now so they could indulge in a little private celebration of their own.

Then again, this was nice too. Just sitting here with each other, surrounded by their friends and sharing subtle looks and glances that no one noticed. It was a bemusing thought, but it made him...happy. Yes, that was the word. At this very moment Harry was actually perfectly happy.

“Yes, we’re all very proud of Draco,” Zabini drawled from his corner, wrapping an arm around Ginny. “Can we drink now?”

Pansy rolled her eyes. “Yes, Blaise. We can drink now. To Draco.”

“To Draco!” the rest of them echoed obligingly.

Harry caught Draco’s eyes for a second. Another secret smile, just for him. He raised his glass and grinned back.

A while later, Harry was pleasantly buzzed and far too content to move from his spot on the couch. Draco was at the other end of the room, apparently making plans for his move to Paris with Pansy. Harry wasn’t so sure he liked the idea of Draco moving to another country. Then again, that was way in the future. It would be a long time before that happened so…

“Harry, we’re out of alcohol.”

Harry blinked as Ron approached and hauled him to his feet. “Come on,” Ron coaxed, pushing him to the door. “We’re making a beer run. The Leaky’ Cauldron’s still open, right?”

“Think so,” Harry mumbled. “Wait, I’ll just tell Draco I’ll be back in a…”

Ron pulled him forward impatiently. “We’ll be back in fifteen minutes, tops. He won’t even know you were gone. Now, come on. If I have to look at Zabini canoodling with my sister a second more, I’m going to be sick.”

“That’s awful.”

“I know, right? Merlin, she could have picked anyone…”

“No, I meant that you used the word ‘canoodling’ in an actual conversation. That right there, is a tragedy.”

He laughed as Ron shoved him for good measure before apparating out of sight. Harry followed, still chuckling.

Later when they making their way out of the Leaky with crates of Butterbeer and Firewhisky Ron spoke up. “So, Malfoy’s moving to Paris soon,” he said conversationally. 

Harry started to nod, before Ron’s words registered. “Not soon,” he corrected. “There’s still time.”

“Oh. So, when does this art program thing start then?”

“It doesn’t work like that. He can join whenever he wants so long as he submits all the material in time. It’s pretty demanding but you know, with the bond and everything, he can’t really move out yet. We’ll work around it.”

“But he is going to move to Paris? You know, some day? When he can?”

What was with all these questions? Harry scowled, inexplicably irritated with Ron’s persistence. “I guess,” he said with a shrug. “But like I said, he can’t right now. Sometime in the future maybe, when all of this is over. So really, there’s no point talking about it yet.”

“Right. Got it. But at that point in the future…”

“We should get back,” Harry cut in firmly a little forcefully, to be honest. “At this rate, people will be sober before we show up.”

Ron raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and they apparated back to the flat without another word.

“We come bearing gifts!” Ron announced cheerily as he strode in and set the crates down with a loud thump. “Courtesy, Neville Longbottom. And this is why it pays to be friends with the bloke who owns a bar.”

The room filled with cheerful laughter and scattered applause. Harry’s dark mood dissipated and he grinned affably. “Come on, you lot. This liquor isn’t going to drink itself. We...”

“Harry?”

Harry turned around as Draco approached. His brow furrowed as he made his way over. Harry reached out and wrapped an arm around him.  Draco looked a bit...off. “What’s wrong?” he asked softly.

“Did you go out with Weasley?” Draco asked, still frowning.

“Um... yes. To get drinks. I didn’t think you’d worry about it but…”

“No, Harry. That’s not what I...when did you leave?”

“Well, about an hour ago, actually. See, we ran into Neville and…”

“Harry.”

What was going on? Harry didn't have the faintest idea, but Draco's expression was starting to worry him. “Draco, what’s wrong?" 

Draco stared at him, looking like he was seeing Harry for the first time. “I didn’t even notice you were gone.”

What? Harry shook his head, still confused. “So what? You were busy and…”

“No, Harry.” Draco’s voice was urgent now, compelling him to listen. “I didn’t notice you were gone. I didn’t...I didn’t feel anything.”

Didn’t feel any…?

The bond.

Harry’s world shifted abruptly, tilting off its axis. The noise died down and the room was suddenly silent. No more laughter, no more tinkling glasses. Their friends were deathly quiet, listening intently. They had figured it out too.

The bond.

“But…” Harry struggled for words. How could it have just… it didn’t make sense. “But it’s been like that for a while now,” he argued. “Bill said it would get weak with time. And we spend hours away from each other but…”

But we always come back. Because of the bond...

“But there’s always something, Harry,” Draco insisted. “A pull. A mild headache. Tension. Anxiety. This time, it...there was nothing.”

“Has it been a year?” Ginny whispered to Hermione.

Harry’s head was reeling. He struggled to think back. There must have been a pull of some sort. He must have felt it when he was out with Ron. He’d just gotten so accustomed to it, he didn’t even think about it anymore. But... looking back now, he couldn’t say he had noticed anything at all.

 Nothing.

“Harry,” Draco’s quiet voice broke the silence. “I think it’s gone.”

Gone.

It couldn’t be gone. Not just like that.

But it was. Somehow, he just knew it wasn’t there anymore. Harry could feel it in his bones. It wasn’t fucking there anymore.

It was gone.

The silence seemed to grow tenfold around them. Draco stared at him with bewildered grey eyes and Harry realised he had no idea what to say to him. He wasn’t prepared for this. The bond had seemed so permanent until a few minutes ago.

That conversation with Ron came back to him. There’s still time. Sometime in the future, he had said. A small, hysterical part of him wanted to laugh at that. ‘Sometime in the future’ was now. The bond was gone now and there was no time left.

What could he say? What did Draco want him to say? What were they going to do about this?

“I realise I’m a bit new to this whole situation,” Zabini stated quietly. “But I was led to believe this is a good thing, yes?”

He directed his question at Ginny but she didn’t seem to have an answer. None of them did. Hermione’s eyes flicked from Draco to Harry, Pansy bit her lip uncomfortably and Ron looked like he wished he was anywhere but here right now.

“Well...” Ginny faltered and looked around the assembled group, searching for a cue. “I suppose?”

There was some reluctant agreement and more shrugging. “I think so,” Pansy mumbled, glancing at Draco. “Right?”

Draco averted his eyes at once.

“Do we...toast or something?” Ron asked doubtfully. He really didn’t look like he wanted to. Fortunately, Hermione came to the rescue.

“Actually, I think we should leave now,” she said, quietly but firmly herding the group towards the Floo. “Harry and Draco obviously have some things to talk about.”

Less than ten minutes later, everyone was gone. Harry was alone with Draco again. Draco shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. Harry shuffled awkwardly. He could swear he could feel the uneasy tension that had disappeared between them, returning with a vengeance. The silence seemed to go on forever as neither said a word. Eventually, when Harry could hear it ringing in his ears he spoke.

“So, this is…”

“I didn’t expect…”

They trailed off together with stilted chuckling. Draco’s smile was tight and strained. It was nothing like the smiles Harry was used to. His heart sank. How had things changed so drastically in just two minutes?

“So,” he managed, after another span of painful silence. “Wow.”

“Yes,” Draco agreed, drumming his fingers against the table.

Harry racked his brains for something to fill the endless void. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“No, not really.”

“But we should have been prepared, I guess,” Harry replied, desperately fighting to keep the conversation going. Awful as it was, it was better than the silence. “It’s been a year, right?”

“I...I wasn’t really keeping track but yes, I think so.”

Silence. Again.

Oh Merlin, why?!

“We should probably…”

“I think we need to…”

They looked up at each other and petered off again, polite smiles firmly in place. “You go first,” Harry offered.

Draco cleared his throat a few times. “I was saying that we should probably call Bill. You know, just to be sure.”

“Oh. Oh, yes. Absolutely. Although, I’m pretty sure. I can feel...”

“Me too.”

Harry’s smile flickered. “Does it feel different for you too? Like…”

“Like a weight’s gone. Like...I don’t know actually. I just feel lighter somehow.”

Really? Like a weight had been lifted? Lighter? That wasn’t Harry’s choice of words but he supposed it worked. “I think that’s it,” he replied. His eyes met Draco’s and he shook his head. “I’m having trouble getting my head around it.”

Draco nodded. “I didn’t think it would be so...sudden.”

They were dancing around the point. The only thing that they really needed to talk about was hanging between them and nobody was saying it. Draco refused to look at him. He was leaning against the wall and fiddling with his sleeves, for Merlin’s sake. The silence settled between them again and Harry wasn’t sure he could handle another spate of that. He blurted out the first, and possible worst thing that came to mind.

“So, Zabini said something earlier.”

Draco’s head snapped up again, his grey eyes instantly alert. Wary. “Yeah,” he said slowly, his gaze unwavering. “He did.”

“He made a fair point,” Harry prodded carefully. If he could just get a sense on what Draco thought, he could work with this. If Draco would just give him an indication of what he thought they should do…

“He made a lot of sense.”

 Oh.

“I mean, he’s right,” Draco muttered and cleared his throat. “It’s a lot more...well, convenient this way, don’t you think?”

Something inside Harry twisted painfully. Convenient? Was that what Draco thought? He was watching Harry carefully, almost relentlessly. As if he expected Harry to refuse or argue. But Harry couldn’t do that. Not if Draco wanted to leave. Besides, it’s what they both wanted, right?

“Of course,” he replied at once. “Convenient. Absolutely. I mean, it’s...it’s great. We can finally... you know, move on.”

“Move on,” Draco echoed softly. For a second, Harry thought his gaze flickered but then he was looking right at Harry again. “The timing’s great,” Draco went on. “I mean, I’m supposed to leave as soon as I can for the…”

“Of course,” Harry cut in hurriedly. “This worked out great, yeah?”

“Yes. It did,” Draco murmured. “So. I guess...I guess we’re done then?”

Damn, that sounded final. Harry could almost visualise the end credits rolling up the screen. The whole situation hit him with the force of a tidal wave. It was over. This whole thing with Draco was finished. The idea was alien  unfathomable and twisted but there it was.

“Yeah,” he said, trying to keep the strain out of his voice. “We’re done. Party’s over.”

“I see.” Draco righted himself. He brushed his robes off firmly and offered Harry a curt nod. His expression was neutral but it cut through Harry like Draco had glared at him. The walls were coming up already. Whatever they had was over. Draco had no reason to bother with him anymore, and the thought shouldn’t hurt so much but...

“You know, II think I’ll just spend tonight at the Manor,” Draco said as he moved towards the floo. “It’s been a long time and...anyway, I’ll come over tomorrow and we’ll...take care of this.”

“Sure,” Harry said, feeling hollow inside. “When do you think you’ll…”

But Draco was already gone. Without so much as a goodbye.

It shouldn’t hurt so much. But it did. It really did.

 


 

 

“And that was it,” Harry said as he finished the very last story in a very long book. “Game over. A week later, he was gone.” He closed the album and put it on the table. It was light outside. Morning, then. They’d been sitting here for more than five hours. Harry leaned back against the couch, feeling more wretched than he ever had in his life. Staying up all night and reliving the best and worst times of one’s life could do that to a person, he supposed. 

“I see,” Bill replied. He crossed his arms and nodded in terse understanding. It didn’t help Harry’s mood, even if it was the whole point of going over that awful night. The fact that Bill got it just cemented the fact.

They had been doomed from the very start. It couldn’t have been any other way — even if it had looked like it for sometime.

“So that’s the whole story,” Harry said, breaking the silence. “That...was our marriage.”

Bill nodded again, apparently refusing to say a word. Harry scowled in irritation. Really? After all this? He had nothing to say?

“Well?” he asked finally.

Bill uncrossed his arms and folded his hands, regarding Harry carefully. He looked like he was trying to solve a complex equation. Or trying to figure out how to get around a particularly difficult curse. He was silent for several minutes and when he finally spoke up, it was evident that he was choosing his words carefully.

“Harry, I’ve known you for a long time. You were twelve, maybe thirteen years old when I first met you. I’ve seen you grow up with my little brothers and sister. I like to think of you as a little brother, actually. I’m assuming that’s okay?”

Harry smiled and nodded.

“Right,” Bill continued, mercifully bypassing all the mushy, emotional stuff and getting straight to the point. “So — whatever I do and say next — keep in mind that it’s because I care about you. If it was Ron in your situation, I’d do the exact same thing.”

Harry frowned, somewhat confused. “Okay, I guess? What…”

WHACK!

“Ouch!” Harry yelped in pain and rubbed his throbbing head. His jaw dropped and he gaped incredulously at Bill. “What the...what the hell was that for?!”

“Well for starters, you’re an idiot,” Bill replied conversationally. “And then there’s the part where you threw away a perfectly good marriage. Oh, and there’s also this one other thing…”

WHACK!

Bloody hell! Bill!”

“That one was for Malfoy,” Bill informed him cheerfully. “But as we’ve established, he’s not here.”

Harry was having trouble forming a coherent sentence. “What...you...why are you hitting me?!" 

“Why?” Bill echoed flatly. “Really, Harry? You’re asking me why? Let’s start with the part when you basically told your husband that you wanted him out of your life.”

What? I never…”

“No? Because you just told me that you said ending things was for the best.”

“I only said that because he said…”

“He’s a Slytherin, Harry! He took his cue from your reaction. He did what he thought you wanted. What’s your excuse?”

Harry gaped at him, at a complete loss for words. “I...he...no.” He shook his head vehemently. “No, you’re wrong. You weren’t there and you didn’t see it. I just told you the whole story and…”

“Harry, all I heard was the two of you not talking. You literally said everything except the most important thing because you didn’t think Malfoy would say it back.” Bill threw his arms up in exasperation. “You’re not school rivals anymore, for Merlin’s sake! Have you learnt nothing from this whole experience?”

Harry just stared at him, confused and completely taken aback. What the hell was happening?

“But he wasn’t...he didn’t...”

Bill’s hands were on his shoulders again, gentle and reassuring. “Do you know what Fleur and I did when she asked for a divorce? We took some time apart. And then we talked to each other. We sat down and talked for hours about where things went wrong. We did that for closure, so we don’t look back years from now and wonder what the hell happened to us. That’s what you do in a marriage. Fleur and I didn’t work and a part of me will always regret that but at least I have the comfort of knowing I did everything I could to save it. Can you say the same thing?”

“But it wasn’t a real…”

“Don’t even start with that,” Bill interrupted firmly. “It was a horrible way to start things and I’ll be the first to admit your wedding was a right disaster, but your marriage...Harry, that was the real thing.”

Harry’s throat clenched painfully. Everything Bill was saying...he wanted it to be true so badly. But it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. If what he and Draco had was real…

“Then why did he leave?” he asked, his voice breaking as he spoke.

Bill smiled gently. “Because you didn’t ask him to stay.”

“That’s not true!” Harry argued vehemently. “It’s not. He wanted to leave. He did. He left the second he could because…”

“Harry, that’s enough.” Bill picked up the scrapbook again. He flipped it open and all but thrust it at Harry. “Look at those pictures,” he ordered. “Look at them and tell me —  does this look like two people who want to get away from each other?”

His hands trembled and his heart hammered inside his chest but Harry looked. If there was even a chance that Bill was right, he wanted to know. For the first time in weeks, he felt just a tiny bit better. Like there was some hope, after all. Was it possible? Could Draco really have felt that way —  the way Harry had felt for him? A part of him didn’t want to consider it because damn it, it would hurt if it was taken away from him again.

But as he looked at those pictures, he felt hope again. Because Draco was smiling in them — a real smile, the one that went right to his eyes —  and Harry knew that wasn’t an act. Draco with a hand around Harry’s waist, his head resting comfortably on Harry’s shoulder. Draco laughing at something he had said. Draco, just happy and content. The way Harry had felt with him.

It was all here and he had been too stupid and too blind to see it. Harry’s vision blurred and his breath hitched. Why hadn’t he seen it?

“He didn’t say anything,” he murmured.

Bill patted his back gently. “That does seem to be the running theme here.”

“Oh Merlin!” Harry groaned and held his head in his hands. “What have I done? What have I done? I wrecked it! Bill, I broke my marriage!”

“It’s not that bad...”

“Not that bad?” Harry echoed incredulously. “Not that bad? Are you fucking serious right now?!”

“Harry, you’re panicking.”

Of course I’m bloody panicking!” Harry shrilled. “Why don’t you ship the love of your life off to another country and we’ll see how well you deal with it?!” 

He trailed off as his panic stricken rant rang in his ears. The love of his life. Draco was the love of his life and...and Harry had sent him away. Draco didn’t even know how he felt. How could he? Harry hadn’t told him. Harry hadn’t said it once. If he had, maybe Draco would have stayed. Or maybe he wouldn’t have and Harry would have been heart broken anyway, but at least he would have known for sure. Anything was better than hanging like this.

“I have to tell him,” he heard himself saying. “Bill, I’ve got to talk to him. I can’t just let him go like this.”

Bill grinned. “Now you’re talking sense. So why don’t you send him an owl and…"

“I’m going to Paris.”

Bill stopped grinning. “Excuse me?”

“I’m going to Paris!” Harry whooped, yanking the closet open and rummaging for a coat. “I’m bringing him back, Bill!”

Bill stared, somewhat flummoxed. This was… not exactly what he’d been going for.“Slow down a bit,” he attempted, trying to bar an enthusiastic Harry from the floo. “That sort of thing works in sappy romance novels but...Harry, no! You’re not going to Paris at five in the morning. You have to do this calmly, rationally. You need to send him an owl and…”

Suddenly, Harry stopped short. His smile faded and the coat fell to the floor. “I can’t go to Paris,” he blurted.

“Exactly,” Bill replied firmly. “That’s crazy. You’ll do this the right way. Give him time to…”

“No, Bill. That’s not it,” Harry groaned and rubbed his temples. “I don’t...I don’t know where he lives.”

“What?!”

“I don’t know where he lives in Paris! He never left an address or anything and…how am I going to find him now?”

Bill seemed to have reached the end of a very long rope here. “Seriously?” he sputtered. “You lost your husband?! You two are the worst! I’ve seen mandrakes with fewer communication issues! I swear to Merlin, the second we get you back together, you’re taking a class of some sort!”

Harry looked up at him with hopeful green eyes. “You really think we’ll get back together?” he asked softly, almost pleading.

Bill sighed and ruffled Harry’s hair. “We’ll find him. The rest is up to you and Draco.”

His eyes widened in surprise when Harry pulled him in for a hug. “Thanks Bill,” Harry mumbled, leaning into his friend. “Thanks for...thanks for everything.”

Bill grinned and clapped him on the back. “Just looking out for you, kid. Now come on. If we’re doing this we’re going to need help. And I can only think of two other people who’d come down here and deal with your shite at this ungodly hour.”

Harry grinned at that. He released Bill and made his way to the fireplace. A few minutes later, Ron’s face flickered in the green flames.

“Harry?” He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Whassatime?”

“Hey, Ron. Look, I’m sorry about this but I have a situation here. I was talking to Bill all night and...well, it’s a really long story. But basically, I figured something out about me and Draco. We…”

“Got it,” Ron interrupted. “We’ll be right over. Oi, Mione! He finally figured it out!”

“Really?” Suddenly, Ron was being shoved over and Hermione came into view. “Oh, Harry! That’s wonderful! We were hoping Bill would talk some sense into you.”

Not for the first time that night, Harry was dumbfounded. “You...you knew too? You knew that I...”

“That you’re in love with your husband?” Ron prompted, nudging his way back in. “Oh, sure. For months.”

“But…”

“We figured it out a long time ago,” Hermione added. “Actually, a very long…”

Harry just about gave up. “Did anyone consider letting me in on that little detail?”

Hermione just smiled fondly. “Oh, Harry. You know you handle things best when you figure them out for yourself. Now budge over. We’re coming through.”

 


 

In less than ten minutes, there was a small army milling about in the flat. Harry stared at the chaos around him in awed silence. A part of him was overwhelmed with thanks. How many people had this? Friends who would drop everything and come running to help him out at the crack of dawn? Truly, he was grateful.

The other, more sensible part of him was a bit scared because frankly, he had some really crazy friends.

Ron for example, was on his hands and knees — halfway through the floo — and having it out with a very sleepy, very cranky International Affairs employee.

“I know what bleeding time it is, Anderson!” he bellowed. “This is an emergency! I need to contact the French Ministry now and your department is the only one that... because it’s your job! Yes, you are bloody well going to do it! Why? Because I saw what you did in the break room that one time. Oh, you know what I’m talking about. Yeah, that’s what I thought. So, get France on the floo and tell them they need to deport Malfoy on the double and send him back to…”

“Do not deport him!” Harry yelped.

“Fine, scratch that last bit. Just find out where the blighter lives. And if that doesn’t work, search the streets. Yes, I’m serious. There’s probably a Rue du Ferret or something in Paris. I’d start there.”

Harry just gaped as Ron emerged from the floo for a second, and shook his head. “These people are a disgrace,” he complained. “No wonder Malfoy quit.”

“Gangway!” Ginny shrilled, barreling past Harry with a mobile clutched to her ear. “Woman on the phone! Blaise, can you hear me now? How about now?”

“When did you get a mobile?” Harry demanded.

“A while back,” Ginny replied blithely. “Blaise has one too. Useful little things, you know. Perfect for when you want to get in touch with someone on short notice.”

Harry scowled at her.

“You know, I’m just thinking outside the box here but if you’d got one for Malfoy, this would probably be a whole lot easier…”

“Got it, Gin,” Harry deadpanned. “Thanks.”

She grinned and went back to the phone. “Did you get that, Blaise? Yes, it took him a while to figure it out. I know, right? Well, just do this one little thing for me and...yes, I promise you can go back to bed after this. I love you too...”

She skipped off and Harry had about half a second to come to terms with that surreal moment before Hermione was yanking his arm and dragging him to the table. “Okay, I just talked to Fleur,” she reported, pulling out a chair and depositing two arm-loads of papers in front of Harry. “Apparently, there are twelve Academies for Art and Culture in Paris alone, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. Start searching for an address or really, anything that looks familiar.” She spotted Bill lounging lazily on the couch, thumbing through the scrapbook. Hermione scowled. “We could use some help, Bill." 

Bill shrugged. “I already did my part,” he pointed out, trying and failing not to look smug about it.

To be fair, he had a point. Not that it helped at all in this situation. They were getting nowhere and Harry was starting to feel a headache coming on.

“Hermione, you can’t be serious,” he protested, gazing in despair at the mountain of paper.

“It gets better,” Hermione muttered. “They’re all in French.”

Harry whimpered and slumped forward, letting his head hit the table. This was a nightmare. They was no way it could get any worse.

“Well, Blaise just called back,” Ginny announced, barging into the room again. “Draco’s mum isn’t in the country. Neither is Pansy Parkinson. Apparently, they’re both in Paris.”

Perfect. Just sodding perfect.

And that’s when Harry officially lost it.

“So that’s it then,” he snapped. “The only two people who might have known where he is and they’re not here. No, really...that’s just bloody brilliant, that is!”

Hermione squeezed his hand gently. “Harry, don’t give up. We can still do this.”

“Can we?” Harry demanded. “Because honestly, Mione? I’m not seeing it.” He scrubbed his hands through his hair. He was so damn tired. And dejected, to boot. Every turn was a dead end and he just felt so stupid for letting Draco go. All he wanted was to find him again and apparently, that wasn’t going to bloody happen. It was hopeless.

“I can harass International Affairs some more,” Ron offered, flaring up the floo as he spoke. “Oi, Anderson! You still there?”

“Maybe Blaise can try the Manor again,” Ginny suggested. “Or…”

“No,” Harry cut in. They were good mates. They had done a lot for him but it was time to face facts. Short of running through Paris with a photograph of Draco, he was out of options. Maybe...maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

“I really appreciate all this,” he told them. “You lot...you’re the best. But we’re not getting anywhere and I know you’ve got your own lives to get back to. This is my problem. I’ll deal with it, okay?”

“Harry, we can’t just…”

“Hermione, stop. Please. We’re stuck. Right about now, I might as well try wishing him here for all the good it would do. I just don’t…”

“Harry?”

Harry froze. He just stopped dead in his tracks. The room went silent around him. One second there was chaos everywhere and then just as suddenly, it seemed to melt away until all he could hear was the sound of his own rapid heartbeat.

That voice.

He knew that voice.

He would know that voice anywhere.

 Draco.

Harry didn’t dare turn around because if it wasn’t true —  if he had somehow imagined it —  he didn’t think he’d be able to stand it. But then he heard Hermione’s gasp and Ron’s bloody hell and he forced himself to look.

The sight of Draco standing there in the doorway hit him like a tidal wave.

Harry’s breath hitched and his heart hammered in his chest.

Draco.

Draco was standing in the doorway.

Draco was here.

“Now there’s a trick,” Ginny chirped up. “Do it again, Harry. Wish for Charlie this time!”

“Ginny, shh!” Hermione hissed, swatting her arm.

Draco seemed to be having trouble coming to terms with what he was seeing. He stepped into the room and just stared at the chaos, looking absolutely bewildered. “What the hell is going on here?” he demanded, looking around with wide, unblinking eyes. “It’s seven in the morning! Why are Weasley and Granger here? Why is Bill here?” He glanced at the fireplace and did an immediate double take. “Why in Merlin’s name is International Affairs here?!”

“Draco.”

Harry’s voice faltered and his eyes prickled painfully. He was here. Draco was here in his flat and...and Harry almost didn’t dare believe it. But it was true. Impossible but true. Somehow, somewhere fate had finally smiled on him. Draco was standing in front of him, stunned and lost and bewildered and just so damn beautiful.

He was here. He was home.

Draco smiled tentatively and took a hesitant step forward. “Hi, Harry,” he murmured.

“Hi,” Harry whispered.

“And that’s our cue,” Bill said, getting up from the couch and dusting his hands off. “Come on, you lot. We’re leaving.”

“But it was just getting good,” Ginny grumbled as she was herded off to the Floo. Harry smiled as she waved goodbye and stepped in with Ron and Hermione, taking off at once. Bill nodded at him and picked up his own handful of Floo Powder, striding over to the fire.

“Bill.”

There really weren’t any words to describe what Bill had done for him tonight. Thank you didn’t even begin to cover it. But it was the best Harry had. He just hoped Bill knew how grateful he was for everything.

“Don’t even try,” Bill grinned. “You owe me forever.”

Harry smiled. “I know.”

Bill nodded. He understood.

“Take care, Harry,” he said as he turned to the fire again. “You too, Malfoy.” And then, in a flash of green, he was gone. Harry watched until the flames flickered and died down. When he turned around, Draco was watching him with a somewhat bemused smile.

“I sense that I missed something big here,” he said after a bit.

“It’s a long, crazy story,” Harry conceded. “I’ll fill you in on it later.” His smile faltered as he took a step towards Draco but his heart leapt when Draco didn’t move away. “How have you been?” Harry asked carefully.

“Alright,” Draco replied. His eyes softened as he looked over Harry. “You look tired though. Are you well?”

“Not for a while,” Harry replied. “But...I feel a lot better now.”

Draco smiled but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. They were quiet again. That same damned silence.

No, Harry decided. Not this time. Never again.

“Draco, we need to talk...”

“Harry, I need to say something to…”

Oh.

Harry shut up and Draco trailed off and looked away, refusing to meet his eyes. He was nervous, Harry realized. Harry was too. He was terrified of whatever was going to happen next. But this couldn’t wait anymore. He was not going to lose Draco for the second time in so many weeks because he didn’t say what needed to be said. He would never forgive himself if that happened.

Well, that and Bill would probably hit him again…

“Let’s sit down,” he suggested. “I think this will take a while.”

Draco didn’t refuse so Harry led him over to the couch. His fingers felt rough against the smooth, pale skin of Draco’s wrist. Harry’s grip tightened slightly and he couldn’t bring himself to let go, even when they sat down. Draco’s eyes darted to Harry’s hand wrapped around his wrist. A light flush tinted his cheeks but he didn’t pull away. It was good enough for Harry. He reached out with his free hand and traced Draco’s cheek. Startled grey eyes met his own, confused and guarded. Harry tried to stamp down the sudden anxiety that seemed to seep into his bones. This was harder than he’d thought.

But they had to do this. They were going to do this. 

“I think I’ll go first this time,” Harry said, quietly but firmly.

Draco nodded and squeezed his knee, offering reassurance.

This was it. No turning back now. Harry took a deep breath and plunged in.

“You know, you really should have left an address or something. Did you know there are twelve art schools with similar sounding names in Paris? I do, because I spent the better part of the morning going through their records trying to find you.”

“You were looking for me?” Draco asked softly.

“I...yeah. Yeah, I was. That’s not even the best part, actually. You should have been here for the intervention.”

“There was an intervention?” 

“Well, mostly it was drinking and Bill hitting me on the head a lot but you could call it that, I suppose.”

A slight smile pulled at Draco’s lips. “I’ve been talking to Mum and Pansy,” he explained. “They came over to see me and I...may have been ambushed too.” He looked up at Harry and his expression was serious but with the slightest hint of amusement. “Did you know that we have severe communication issues that probably date back to our Hogwarts days?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” Harry grinned. “Bill emphasized that point with the aforementioned hitting.”

“Pansy went after me with a baguette.”

Harry laughed at that. When this was over, he was sending Parkinson a fruit basket. Draco chuckled with him and shifted closer. Harry put an arm around him, drawing him in and Draco leaned against his chest. The laughter trailed off into silence again.

“We’re really bad at this, aren’t we?” Draco said finally. His fingers curled into Harry’s shirt.

So bad. Just terrible,” Harry agreed. “A lot of that is my fault. Apparently, I do this thing where I try to guess what you’re thinking and work from there. As it turns out, that’s not a very good idea."

“It sounds complicated,” Draco murmured. He sighed and put his head on Harry’s shoulder. “Let’s try something new, yes? You say what’s on your mind and I’ll do the same and...we’ll take it from there.”

“That sounds fair,” Harry muttered. He could do this. He could do this...

Draco smirked. “You go first.”

Harry rolled his eyes, but obliged. “Okay, let’s start small then. I haven’t been sleeping very well since you left. Your turn.”

Draco considered that for a beat before putting in his own contribution. “I’ve been too tired to do anything but sleep, actually. Go for it.”

“I haven’t washed a dish since you moved out. Beat that.”

“Big surprise, Potter,” Draco retorted. “I still haven’t unpacked any of my stuff. Those three boxes? Still in a corner somewhere in my new flat. I…” He faltered slightly before taking a sharp breath and continuing. “I didn’t want that place to feel like home.” 

Harry felt something painful clench inside him. “I didn’t look at the pictures you sent until Bill came over and made me. It was too painful,” he confessed quietly.

Draco’s fingers tightened around his. Harry wasn’t sure if he was seeking reassurance or offering it. “Mum and Pansy had to threaten me with bodily harm before I even considered talking about you. I...I sent you the pictures because I couldn’t deal with looking at them anymore.”

“I hate Paris a little bit now,” Harry admitted. “I really don’t want you to go back there again and I don’t care how selfish that is.”

“I’m not too fond of it myself,” Draco replied. “I only left because I thought you wanted me to go.” He looked at Harry with a hint of accusation in his eyes.

“I did not want you to leave,” Harry argued vehemently. “I may have...implied it somehow but I definitely didn’t mean to. I thought you wanted to leave...”

“I never wanted to leave!” Draco snapped. He crossed his arms and glared. “You could have said something, Harry.”

Harry sputtered indignantly. “You could have said something too!”

“I was upset!” Draco argued. “I thought you wanted me to leave so you could ‘move on’ with your life. You did say…”

“Oh, now you listen to me?” Harry sneered. “Maybe if you’d actually called once or twice instead of disappearing off the face of the earth, we would have had this conversation a long time ago!”

“I didn’t think you’d want to see me again!” Draco yelled, glaring daggers at him. “I thought you’d be happy that I was gone!”

“Why the hell would I want that? I’ve been miserable without you!”

“Well, I’ve been miserable without you too!”

“Then why did you leave?!” Harry yelled in frustration.

“I just told you I wanted to stay!” Draco practically howled.

“Good!” Harry snarled back, grabbing hold of Draco’s shoulders and shaking him roughly. “Because you’re never leaving me again and that’s final!”

“Fine!”

“Fine!”

Harry may have had a few more choice things to tell his prat of a husband, but Draco decided to end the conversation there and then by crushing their mouths together. Harry growled into the kiss and yanked him closer, taking control. Want and hunger and need and desperation surged inside him as Draco’s beautiful, pliant mouth worked against his own. It was just like he remembered and everything he wanted and damn it, if this was what talking did for a marriage, Harry would probably never shut up again.

Draco had other ideas though. “Bed,” he gasped, pulling Harry along almost frantically. “Can’t wait...now…”

And fuck, how was Harry supposed to argue with that? Draco all but tossed him on the bed and then there was a warm, firm, beautiful body pressed against his and Draco’s mouth was on his neck and his shirt was being ripped off him, buttons scattering everywhere. Harry’s hands gripped at Draco’s hips and turned him over easily. Draco arched against him, grinding their hips together and Harry hissed his appreciation. Draco’s eyes were wide and his lips were parted and good grief, he was going to come just looking at that.

“You’re never leaving again,” Harry hissed, his fingers clenching into Draco’s hips. “You’re never leaving me again, you’re never leaving this house again and if I have my way, you’re never leaving this bed again!”

“Harry, please!” Draco whimpered, raising his hips and arching desperately. Harry moaned as Draco’s hard cock rubbed against his thigh. Less talk, more action then. Harry set to work on divesting Draco of his trousers and pants. He all but ripped them off and his mouth practically watered at the sight of that pretty, pink cock — hard and leaking, just for him.

“Mine,” Harry growled. Draco just nodded frantically and bucked against him. It was all the encouragement Harry needed. He licked a long strip down the shaft and Draco cried out and canted his hips again. Harry wasn’t done tormenting him by a long shot. He had wanted this for so long and he was damn well going to take his time with it. He tortured Draco with few more licks before wrapping his lips around the head and sucking gently. Draco managed a garbled sound that was half moan, half sob and his fingers gripped at Harry’s head, trying to push him down further. Harry obliged and took Draco in one smooth motion until he hit the back of his throat. Draco’s cry of rapture echoed of the walls, spurring him on and almost undoing him. Harry bobbed up and down, his throat clenching around Draco and taking him even further, impossibly deeper.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get any better than this, Draco pushed him off with a whine of protest. Harry growled and tried to get him down again so he could finish what he started but Draco was already moving, getting on his hands and knees and presenting his arse to Harry.

Oh, holy fuck. 

“Want you...like this,” Draco gasped, pushing back frantically into his hands. “Harry...Harry, fuck me now!”

Harry was moving before he knew it. His clothes were gone, tossed in a careless pile on the floor and his fingers were slicked with a quick charm. It didn’t matter though because it definitely wasn’t fast enough for Draco.

“For fuck's sake, Harry!” he snarled as Harry slipped a finger inside him, stretching him carefully and thoroughly. “Will you hurry up already?!”

Harry smirked. “Now is that any way to talk to your husband?” he taunted. He brushed Draco’s slicked hole with the head of his cock, teasing him with shallow, barely there thrusts until Draco was practically incoherent with rage and lust.

He fixed Harry with a glare that might very well have been capable of turning him to ashes had Draco been just a bit more focused. “Let me put this in words you’ll understand, husband,” he spat. “Either you’re taking care of this or I’m taking care of this! I’ve waited weeks for this shag and you are not going to stand in my way!”

That was all the warning Draco gave him as he pushed back, impaling himself on Harry’s cock. Harry snarled as that tight, wet channel gripped around him in a vice. His hands dug into Draco’s hips on instinct and he struggled to keep it together. He wanted Draco to remember this one in case he even got any bright ideas about going away again…

The thought wrenched an angry, possessive growl from his throat and he drew back and thrust. Draco arched and cried out.

“Harry!”

The sound of his name in that breathy, wanting voice...Harry just about lost it then. He pulled back and thrust again, making sure to hit the spot. Draco’s moan was a reward in itself and Harry commenced fucking him with abandon, thrusting in and out of that slick, wet heat. Draco was writhing under his touch, dancing on his cock, sinuous and fucking gorgeous. He was here and he was Harry’s and nothing else mattered except making sure Draco knew that and…

“Oh Merlin, Harry!”

Draco’s cry echoed off the walls and his back arched magnificently as his climax racked through him. Merlin, he looked like sin. Harry couldn’t hold out any longer. He thrust again, once, twice, three more times and then he was coming, hands digging possessively into Draco’s sides and Draco’s name on his lips.

Draco mumbled in sleepy, sated protest as Harry collapsed on top of him, pinning him down. “Geroff me, you ape,” he grumbled. Harry snickered and rolled to his side, pulling Draco along. Draco offered no protest to that and curled into his side, running long, lazy fingers over Harry’s hip. Harry tugged him closer, wrapping a protective arm around him. The heat of the moment was gone now, but there was a tender, almost painful intimacy instead. Draco was here, in his arms and Harry couldn’t last remember being so grateful for anything. Somehow, everything was alright now and it was all because he had this again.

“I love you, you know,” he whispered into Draco’s hair. It had taken him this long to say it, but there it was.

Draco disentangled himself and looked up at Harry with sleepy eyes. “I love you, too,” he murmured. “I would have thought it was obvious, but apparently you can be a bit thick sometimes.”

Harry chuckled and leaned over to kiss him gently on the lips. “We still have some stuff to work out,” he reminded Draco. “Like what you’re going to do about art school, for example.”

Draco shrugged. “Well, we’re not moving to Paris but I suppose I could Floo or Portkey down there when I need to. Or if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just find another school here. I’m very talented, you know.” He yawned and settled down again, curling into Harry’s chest and closing his eyes. “If that’s all, I’d like to go to sleep now. It’s been a long day and..." 

“Hang on,” Harry cut in, shaking him gently. “I’ve got one more question.”

“Oh for...what is it now, Potter?”

Harry smiled and cupped Draco’s face in gentle hands, looking into those silver eyes. “Will you marry me again?”

Draco grinned, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “If I say yes, will you shut up so we can finally move on to that happily ever after shite?”

Harry laughed and kissed him again. 

 


 

 

A few days later…

 

“Well, this is it,” Hermione said, looking down at the small pile in front of her.

“Last order of business,” Ron agreed. He grinned at the happy couple. “Go on then. Finish up so we can start on the Firewhisky.”

Draco raised his wand. “Incendio,” he drawled, sounding almost bored. The small pile — three beige boxes neatly stacked on top of each other — burst obligingly into flames. The crowd broke out into cheers and applause. “Your move, Potter,” Draco announced, raising a challenging eyebrow.

Harry smirked at him and tossed a sheaf of official Ministry documents into the smouldering bonfire. He exchanged a quiet smile with Draco and squeezed his hand as the divorce papers withered away to nothing.

“And it’s done,” Blaise announced thankfully, raising his glass. “To Harry and Draco. May you find love, happiness and fulfillment with each other for the rest of your days.”

“Oh Blaise, that’s wonderful,” Ginny gushed.

“Maybe that way the rest of us won’t be randomly dragged out of bed at six in the morning to deal with your shite.”

“And there’s the man I love,” Ginny added dryly. “To the happy couple!”

“To the happy couple!” the rest of the crowd cheered. Harry grinned and swooped in to claim a kiss from his husband and the cheers turned to cat calls and applause.

Bill watched the scene with a smile, nursing his own drink. It was definitely one of the oddest weddings he’d been to but then again, he wouldn’t expect anything less from those two. Besides, it just barely topped the first one. Still, as he watched Harry laughing with his friends, with an arm firmly around his husband, he had to admit that they worked together. Somehow.

He didn’t pretend to understand it but…

“Weasley, we have got to stop running into each other like this.”

Bill turned around and his train of thought came to a rather abrupt halt. Attractive women tended to do that to him. Besides, he hadn’t really been able to get this one out of his head ever since...

“Still as rude as ever, I see,” Pansy huffed. “Fine, I’ll just leave you alone then…”

She whirled around, all ready to storm off in a strop. Bill reached out and grabbed her hand to stop her. He wasn’t sure why he did it but when those dark, sultry eyes widened in sudden surprise, he wasn’t sorry at all. “We both know that’s not your style,” he grinned, drawing her a little closer.

Pansy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And what would you know about my style?” she countered.

Bill chuckled but he didn’t relinquish his grip on that slim wrist. “Well, for one thing I know that your weapon of choice is a well aimed baguette.”

She smiled mischievously and allowed him to pull her over. “Heard about that, did you? Say what you will, but I definitely get results.” She gestured over to Harry and Draco, both still wrapped up in each other.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Bill retorted. “I like to think I had a little something to do with it.”

“Well, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.”

Bill laughed out loud at that and he couldn’t help thinking it had been a long time since someone had made him laugh like that. She was almost ridiculously cute. He really liked that about her. And those legs didn’t hurt either…

“I heard about the divorce,” she said suddenly. Her fingers crept up to squeeze his hand gently and she looked genuinely sympathetic. “I’m very sorry.”

Bill smiled slightly and squeezed back. “I’m not,” he replied. “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that sometimes it takes a little work to end up with the right person. But it’s worth it.”

“And how’s that going so far?” she asked, almost shyly. “Have you...found what you’re looking for yet?”

“I think I’m getting close.” And again, when her cheeks flushed and a soft smile graced that pretty face, he really couldn’t say he was sorry. Bill smiled back and shifted closer, enjoying the way her eyelashes fluttered nervously at his action. Truth be told, he was nervous too. But then again, these were times for new beginnings. And considering how hard he’d worked at everyone else’s...well, Bill figured he was long overdue for one.

“So, I believe I owe you a dance,” he whispered. “Care to collect?”

She laughed and pulled him to his feet, leaning into him slightly. Her body felt small and delicate against him and he put an arm around her, instinctively protective. “Just so you know,” she said, standing up on tip toes to whisper in his ear. “If you run out on me after this, I’m coming after you with a baguette.”

Bill laughed and pulled her closer again. “I’ll hold you to it.”

Somewhere in the background, Harry and Draco exchanged amused glances as they snapped a picture.

 

           THE END