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You open always (petal by petal)

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Harry’s breath curled into the air in white plumes as he crossed the street, and he pushed his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans. He’d had one drink too many to Apparate, and besides, he liked the walk from the Dumbledore Arms back to Grimmauld Place. It took him past a shabby cinema with peeling posters on display, a motorbike shop which Harry secretly regarded as the original source of Sirius’s bike, and then... then there were two routes he could take. The first, and most direct, took him past a disused bus garage and some grotty-looking flats. The second was a bit of a detour, to be honest, but Harry sometimes walked that way anyway, past some offices and a laundromat until he came to the street where neon signs flashed outside a string of little bars and shops.

His pulse quickened a little as he turned the corner, but he cast his eyes down at the pavement, not letting himself look. Not yet.

It was stupid to feel this way, this thrilling mixture of nerves and excitement, and the sharp little twist of shame beneath. He was only walking home; he wasn’t going to do anything, even if one of the boys called out to him, as had happened in the past. Harry wondered, not for the first time, if they knew – if they could tell, just from looking, that he sometimes thought about men.

He let his eyes flick up ahead of him briefly. There were often three or four young guys dotted along the street, but tonight there was only one, under a street lamp which cast a pool of light around him. A hot shiver danced along Harry’s spine and he turned his eyes down again. Past the kebab shop, then another glance to the end of the street. The boy was tall, lean, his jeans tight and black, only a thin t-shirt stretched over his torso despite the chill of the night air. Harry looked a little longer this time, long enough to take in the suggestive pose, the way he leaned back against the wall with his hips jutting forward.

Harry imagined his own steps slowing down, thought of himself stopping beneath the street light without trying to hide the fact that he was looking. The way he would let his eyes linger on the boy’s narrow frame, before asking, “How much?”

Harry’s heart thumped guiltily in his chest, and he glanced around to see if anyone else was about, but there was nothing wrong in walking down the street. He would never actually do any of the things he sometimes thought about. He would never take this boy home, have him stand before Harry while he slowly peeled off the tight shirt, unzipped the clinging jeans and eased them down over the boy’s skinny hips…

No. Harry wouldn’t do that. It seemed wrong – it was wrong, surely – buying another person, as though they were an object for sale. Doing whatever you wanted with them, just using them for your own pleasure. Harry’s skin prickled all over with heat, and he closed his eyes for a second, to chase the image away. No. He knew all about being used, and he wasn’t the kind of person who would treat someone that way. He was a trainee Auror, for fuck’s sake - his job was to protect people, not prey on them...

Harry was only a few yards away now. He looked over at the slim figure again. Merlin, this boy was beautiful – rangy and elegant, and the lamp gleamed on his pale skin, the halo of his silvery hair, like a model on a runway. There was something so striking about him: striking, and familiar, and–

The boy adjusted his position against the wall, and Harry saw the outline of the Dark Mark, standing out sharply against the milk-white of his arm. Harry felt a jolt of adrenaline in his chest and at the same moment, the boy turned his head at last. Of course he was familiar. It was Draco Malfoy, dressed in Muggle clothing. Draco Malfoy, looking so fucking provocative, so perfectly desirable, that the shock of it made Harry stop in his tracks.

Dismay flickered over Malfoy’s face, then his eyes hardened. “I suppose you’ve come to gloat.”

“What?” Harry’s voice sounded strange. “No.”

“What, then? What do you want?” Malfoy looked at him through narrowed eyes and Harry couldn’t stop the flush that was sweeping up from his throat.

“I was just walking home.” Harry didn’t know why it sounded so unlikely. It was true. “I live that way, OK?” He gestured. “Kind of... over there.”

There was something tense about Malfoy’s body, as if he was ready for a fight, ready for anything, and his eyes swept over Harry with a calculating gaze that made Harry want to get out of there, fast.

“I’ve got to go,” he said, but Malfoy put out a hand to stop him.

“No,” he said, and his expression was different now, it was knowing, and Harry didn’t like it at all. “You came to look, didn’t you?” Malfoy went on.

“No!” Harry said, and it bloody came out sounding far too emphatic. He should just leave, should just walk away, and–

“You came to see what’s on offer.” Malfoy was watching carefully, looking for Harry’s reaction and nodding at what he saw. “Yes.”

Harry opened his mouth to deny it, but Malfoy’s mouth was curling into a mocking smile and it made Harry feel things – things that were hatefully familiar and horribly new at the same time. Malfoy’s expression was so tormenting, it had Harry wanting to reach for his wand, but he also couldn’t help noticing the fullness of Malfoy’s lips, and the promise contained in his lowered lids.

“Well, have a good look, Potter. Everything you see here is for sale.” Malfoy leaned back against the wall again, tilting his head to one side, and it was a bloody good job he had never looked this way in school, because Harry didn’t think he would have made it through sixth year without going insane. A flash from a nearby sign – OPEN 24 HOURS – reflected on Malfoy’s high cheekbones, making them bloom neon pink. The light gleamed on his hair, on the swell of his bicep, on the white t-shirt, throbbing with colour and a seedy sort of glamour.

Harry was staring. He couldn’t seem to make his feet move, couldn’t seem to even catch his breath. Malfoy’s mouth looked like it had some kind of gloss on it, all shiny and seductive, and there was sweat collecting at Harry’s temples, despite the wintry air. His tongue felt thick and clumsy, but he had to ask, because it made no sense that Draco Malfoy had ended up here, on a street corner, offering his body for money. “Why are you doing this?”

Malfoy’s face flashed with hostility, but he answered readily enough. “Because I’m good at it.” He let his gaze rake over Harry’s face. “Very good.”

Harry tried to keep his face neutral, but really, that was a large part of the problem. He could fully believe that Malfoy was good at his job. He had no trouble imagining it at all.

But Malfoy hadn’t finished. He held out his forearm to Harry, his fist clenched, the black lines of the skull and snake as stark and sinister as ever, and Harry had to fight the urge to flinch away from it.

“And you know what?” Malfoy said, his voice edged with bitterness. “It’s rather hard to get a Ministry job with this on your arm.”

Harry looked at Malfoy, the haughty way he held his chin, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed sharply as he swallowed.

“Right,” Harry said. There was quite a lot he could say about that, but it didn’t seem likely to lead to anything constructive. He hadn’t seen Malfoy since the trials, since the Ministry had requisitioned the Manor and the Malfoys had apparently gone to ground. He’d wondered, once or twice, what they were all up to, but bloody hell, he’d never dreamed–

“Seen enough yet?” Malfoy asked. “I must say, I’d never have guessed you’d have to pay for it, Potter–”

Harry’s hands tightened into fists in his pockets. “I’m going now,” Harry told him.

He could feel Malfoy’s eyes on him as he walked away. “I’ll see you again,” Malfoy called, tauntingly, but Harry didn’t look back.

~*~

It was just after eight p.m. and Harry could feel every one of the sixty hours of training he’d done that week. He rolled his aching shoulders as he walked, feeling the left one settle into place with a click, as it often did since getting on the wrong end of a Confringo during a raid. He needed the walk home to unwind, but as soon as he got there, he was going to shower, maybe have a couple of beers, and watch Malawi thrash Brazil at Quidditch.

Grimmauld Place had never quite seemed like home, despite Harry’s best intentions. After the war, it always seemed easier to spend time at the Burrow, or, after Ron and Hermione got married, at their place, a scruffy old farmhouse near Oxford that glowed with warmth and magic and comfort. Grimmauld Place felt unwelcoming in comparison, with a sad, neglected air, and sometimes Harry had the weirdest feeling that the house resented him being there, that it was somehow disappointed in him, But he was trying to make the best of it. He really was. He would finally put up that picture this weekend, the one Hagrid had given him for his birthday, of dragons flying at sunset. He would ask Neville round for a meal – Harry hadn’t seen him for weeks. And he would–

The brittle, splintering sound of breaking glass made Harry’s head snap around to the block of flats on the other side of the street. A woman threw open a window and stuck her head out, scanning the street before she spotted Harry, still in his uniform.

“Oh! Hurry!” She sounded breathless. “I think they’re killing each other.”

Harry’s wand flew to his hand, and he crossed the street at a run. “Where? How many?” He should call for backup, really. But by then it might be too late.

Her face was pinched and anxious. “Next door to me. Just the young chap who lives there and another one, I think. He’s always noisy, but not like this.”

Harry took the stairs two at a time, pausing on the landing of the third floor to get his bearings, until a muffled thud and a groan from inside one of the flats let him know where he was needed. The door was locked, but with a burst of intense focus, he managed to push the wards aside for long enough to allow him to Apparate in.

Inside, possessions were strewn about, a table lay on its side, and two wizards were grappling with each other. Harry froze for a moment, staring at the compelling sight of Draco Malfoy pressed up against the wall, wearing only an open shirt and his underwear. Then Harry took in Malfoy’s furious expression and the other man’s hand wrapped around Malfoy’s throat.

“Auror Department,” Harry yelled, and the man started to turn, wand drawn.

One of his meaty hands still lay around Malfoy’s narrow throat, possessive and brutal, and something inside Harry roared into life. A spell leapt from Harry’s wand – a Stunner – then another, and another, fast and satisfying, and as the first one hit, the man’s eyes rolled right back into his head.

Malfoy lurched to the left, away from the path of the spells, and it was a good job he did, for Harry must have used more force than he intended. His target’s body fell to the floor in a boneless slump, and when Harry’s final jet of red light hit the wall of the flat it blew a hole right through the bricks, blasting them apart with a sickening crunch of rubble.

Harry whipped around, on the alert for further attackers, but the flat was empty except for Malfoy, who stood panting, his eyes a little wild and his chest heaving with exertion.

“What the bloody hell?” Malfoy asked.

Harry stepped towards the unconscious wizard and checked his pulse. “His wand was drawn. I needed to immobilise him.”

“Yeah, but…” Malfoy gestured at the place where the wall used to be. He looked a little bit impressed, but mostly pissed off.

“He was going to cast.” Harry drew his brows together. He didn’t quite know why he’d reacted with such force, only that the sight of the man’s hand on Malfoy like that had been intolerable. “He was choking you, for god’s sake.” He looked around at the ruin of the flat. A curtain fluttered at the broken window, while a bottle lay on its side, spreading a dark, sticky stain over the carpet. “What happened here? Whose flat is this?”

Malfoy ran a shaky hand through his hair. “I live here. We had a disagreement.”

“I can see that.” Harry operated the charm on his belt to call for backup. “What was it about? Who is he?”

Malfoy tilted his chin. “I didn’t get a name.”

“Did he break in?”

Malfoy shook his head. He pulled at his shirt, drawing the material together over his chest. “I met him about an hour ago.”

Harry felt himself flush. Of course. The man was one of Malfoy’s customers. “So you brought him back here for…” Harry didn’t want to think about what they’d been doing. “How did the fight start?”

Malfoy sounded disdainful. “Quite often, people think they’ll leave without handing over the Galleons.” He picked up a pair of jeans from the floor and started pulling them on.

Harry frowned. Was Malfoy really saying it was normal for people to try to cheat him? “They do what?”

“They fuck me and then don’t pay, Potter. It’s not the kind of thing I’d want to call the Aurors for, know what I mean?” Malfoy asked, as he fastened the jeans with a wriggle. His hipbones jutted out above the waistband, and Harry wondered when he’d last had a decent meal. “Anyway, that’s easily fixed…” Malfoy bent over the prone figure and put a hand in the man’s robes.

“Malfoy.” It came out very gruff. “You can’t take his gold while he’s unconscious.”

Malfoy straightened up, a money pouch in his hand. “If I suck someone’s cock for half an hour, Potter, I expect to be paid in return.”

The image flashed into Harry’s head, unwanted but inescapable. Malfoy, on his knees, his cheeks hollowed... Merlin. Harry grimaced and shook his head.

“What?” Malfoy looked indignant. “I’m only taking what he owes me.”

Harry would imagine Malfoy charged pretty fancy prices for a blow job. It was only fair, though, if the man had got what he wanted…

But as Malfoy undid the pouch, his face screwed up. “Fuck. The bastard’s only got a handful of Knuts.” He threw the purse to the ground.

Harry’s temples were starting to throb. He was so tired – too tired for any of this.

“I need to get home.” He nodded at the wizard on the floor. “Someone will be along to take him down to the cells. Where will you go?”

“Go?”

“You can’t stay here.” Harry gestured at the wall.

Malfoy shrugged. “I’ll patch it up a bit.”

“It won’t hold, Malfoy. Walls and windows – that’s complex spellwork. You can’t stay here tonight; it was snowing earlier.”

Malfoy’s shirt still hung open, and he rubbed his arms as if feeling the cold for the first time. Something about him looked slightly lost, but then, Harry supposed his evening hadn't quite gone to plan.

“Get someone in to fix it tomorrow, and then claim it back from the Ministry.” Harry knew that was the right procedure with this kind of thing. Although he wasn’t sure if it applied to damage caused by trainee Aurors who weren’t even on duty at the time…

Well. If the Ministry wouldn’t pay for it, Harry would.

But Malfoy’s brow was furrowed. Of course, Harry thought – it didn’t take a genius to work out that Malfoy might not have the money to pay a Charms specialist up front.

“Do you rent this flat?” Harry asked. “Your landlord should deal with repairs. Tell him to send the bill to us.”

“Oh. Right.” Malfoy looked around at the debris and bit his lip. “The landlord, he’ll pay, will he?”

Harry felt guilt settling, clammy and wretched, in his stomach. “Get it seen to tomorrow, Malfoy, it should be fine. You can stay with friends or something, yeah?”

Malfoy let out a sarcastic laugh. “Yeah. Of course, there are loads of people wanting to let me move in with them.”

Hell. Robards was always on at Harry about the rules, but there was nothing about this in the trainee’s handbook.

“It’s fine.” Malfoy tilted his chin. “I’ve slept out before. I’m not bad with a warming charm.” He looked very young, all of a sudden. His shirt still hung open and Harry could see the ridges of his ribcage.

Bloody hell. “Look.” Harry was going to fix this and go home. “It was my spell that did most of it. I’ll get you a room at a hotel.”

Malfoy gave him a look of disgust and began to fasten his shirt. “I don’t need your charity.”

Harry tried not to stare too obviously at the run-down flat. He took in the messy, narrow bed in one corner, the tiny kitchen with one gas ring. You could probably fit Malfoy’s whole flat into one of the bedrooms at Grimmauld Place. It suddenly seemed obscene for Harry to be living there all by himself, rattling around like a marble in a tin.

“OK. Well…” Harry took a deep breath. “Come back to mine,” he said.

Malfoy looked surprised, but pleased. “Oh,” he said. His hand stilled on his button, and his eyes flicked up towards Harry’s, appraisingly. “All right,” he said, his voice a touch softer than Harry had ever heard it before. “I knew you’d ask me, Potter. When you’d had a chance to think it over.”

“No, no, no.” Harry put up a hand. “I just mean a place to sleep, Malfoy, for god’s sake.”

“Yeah. I need a place to sleep. And in return, I don’t mind doing something for you.” The way he spoke made it all sound so easy. He dropped his voice. “Nobody has to know.”

“No. I didn’t mean that.”

“It’s OK,” Malfoy walked towards Harry and stopped, one hand on his hip. Harry could smell his cologne, something fresh and enticing, could see the peak of his nipple through the thin shirt and the way his mouth glistened as his tongue darted out to wet his lips.

“I know you want to. I’ve known since I saw you on Duke Street.” Malfoy’s words were confiding, intimate, and for a moment Harry thought about how it would be to just take what Malfoy was offering.

“You’re wrong. I don’t want to.” Harry’s palms were prickling with sweat. Malfoy was much too close, and Harry had a horrible feeling that he might do something stupid.

Everyone wants to, Potter.” Malfoy raised his hand, reaching out, and it felt like everything was going in slow motion. Harry imagined the touch of Malfoy’s cool fingers on his cheek, on his jaw, slipping down the line of his throat and under his collar. It would feel so good, too good, and then anything might happen, if Harry let it–

His wand was in his hand again without his knowing how it got there. “Don’t,” Harry gritted out.

Malfoy stood perfectly still.

“Don’t touch me,” Harry said quietly.

Malfoy dropped his hand. He spoke quietly, too, but now it held the edge of a threat. “All right.” There were splashes of pink forming on his pale cheeks and he jutted his chin towards Harry. “But I don’t need rescuing.”

“It’s not–” Harry shook his head in frustration. He took a step back and found he could breathe more easily with a little distance between him and Malfoy. Part of him wanted to tell Malfoy to forget it, to go and sleep in the gutter for all he cared. But there was no way he could let Malfoy head out for the night with nowhere to go. He’d get robbed, or stabbed, or worse. It was Harry’s fault, and he was going to put it right. “Come to mine. Just for a bit. There’s loads of space.”

Malfoy looked doubtful, studying Harry’s face. He was clearly reluctant, but Harry thought he could still be talked into it.

“We can find a way for you to pay me back,” Harry went on, and Malfoy narrowed his eyes, as if weighing up his options. “I mean, it’s not necessary, from my point of view,” Harry told him. “But if it bothers you, or something.”

Malfoy took a moment to digest this, then gave a curt nod. “Fine, then,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Harry let out a breath. “Do you want to, you know, get your things?”

Malfoy slipped his feet into a pair of shoes and scooped up a cloak that was draped across the sofa. “This’ll do. I’ll come back for some stuff in the morning.” He seemed to take a moment to gather himself together, then stood up straight and held his arm out with a mocking smile. “Lead the way, Potter.”

~*~

It wasn’t the smoothest Side-Along Harry had ever performed; Malfoy was thrown against him as they landed in the hallway of Grimmauld Place, and took a moment to find his balance. Malfoy’s body was strong, as well as skinny, and something else, too… Malfoy felt alert, every muscle tensed in readiness.

Malfoy straightened up, but he was standing much too close, the space too narrow for two people, unless those people knew each other far better than Harry and Malfoy did. They weren’t touching anymore, but Harry could still feel the heat of Malfoy’s body pressing against him, such a contrast from the chilled skin of Malfoy’s arms.

“Here we are,” Harry said, taking a step back and wondering what felt different about Grimmauld Place. There was something about it, something new, and he didn’t know what it was, exactly, but–

Malfoy’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Here we are,” he repeated, and unless Harry was imagining it, his voice was slightly derisive, and Harry forgot what he had been thinking about.

“Well, come on,” Harry said, and stumped along the threadbare carpet. He kept meaning to get new carpets fitted, but somehow it had never happened. He was intending to show Malfoy into the drawing room, but at the last minute changed his mind and took the stairs down to the kitchen. It would feel less awkward down there, surely, round the scrubbed wooden table, with a kettle boiling on the ring.

The kitchen didn’t look too bad, with the gas lamps lit, and the damp smell was far less noticeable in this part of the house. It was one of the places Harry actually enjoyed spending time. He busied himself with mugs and teabags, and then turned to find Malfoy looking rather weary, still standing in the doorway.

“Sit down,” Harry told him. “I’ll make something to eat.”

Malfoy hesitated, his eyes wary. “Don’t trouble yourself,” he said. “I can just go to bed, if you show me where to sleep.”

Harry looked at him, taking in the dark circles under his eyes, the hollows of his cheeks and the narrowness of his wrists where the bone jutted out.

“Sit down,” he repeated. “I’m just going to have some toast. You need to eat something; you probably didn’t get time earlier…” He trailed off, thinking about what exactly Malfoy had been busy doing that evening, heat swarming over his skin. Harry turned his back again and got out the breadknife. “Toast,” he said, firmly.

It turned out Malfoy could really pack it away when it came to food. He made short work of four slices of Harry’s finest doorstop toast, thickly spread with butter and marmalade. Harry leaned against the counter and munched his own slices steadily. This was weird. Draco Malfoy was sitting in his kitchen. Eating toast. Fucking weird. Malfoy gave Harry a lopsided smile as he licked a bit of butter off his thumb, and Harry’s stomach did a horrible kind of flip. The house still felt off in some way Harry couldn’t pin down. Maybe he was imagining it – something in the walls, in the air, a kind of soft thrumming all around. It wasn’t a bad feeling – the opposite, really – but it made him feel unsettled.

Malfoy had regained a little colour in his cheeks, and he gulped gratefully at the hot tea Harry placed in front of him until it was gone, setting down the mug and trying to hide a long yawn.

“Bed, then?” Harry asked, and could have bitten his own tongue off at the way that sounded. Malfoy didn’t say anything, but Harry saw one eyebrow flicker. The other interpretation of Harry’s words seemed to hang in the air between them, and Harry swore he could feel Grimmauld Place give a purr of interest.

“I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping,” Harry said firmly, before either Malfoy or the house could get the wrong idea.

As they climbed the stairs to the first floor, Harry’s heart sank a bit. This part looked especially run down. Harry had repainted these walls after moving in, but you would never have known it. They seemed to have turned out exactly the same grimey, faded yellow colour as before. Harry had also prised off the most grotesque of the house-elf heads from the walls, but there was one he hadn’t been able to shift, a hapless elf whose plaque bore the name of Slanker, and as they passed it, Harry heard Malfoy draw a sharp breath.

“Hell’s teeth. This is Great-Aunt Walburga’s house!”

Harry stopped on the landing. Malfoy was wide-eyed, looking around. “It is, isn’t it? This is the Black family home.”

“Yeah, it is, but don’t keep screeching or you’ll wake the old bigot up. Her portrait’s still upstairs; if you try to take it out of the house she yells like she’s being murdered and nothing on earth will shut her up. Believe me, I have tried.”

“Merlin, Potter, what have you done to the place?”

“I didn’t do anything. It was already in a right fucking state when Sirius left it to me,” Harry told him.

Malfoy stared at the peeling paint and the tide mark of damp on the wall outside the bathroom.

“I’ve improved it. A lot,” Harry added firmly, thinking of the endless Boggarts he had chased away, the persistent leak in the roof he had finally patched up, and the Bundimun infestation that had eaten its way through half of the third floor bathroom before Harry got a witch in to see to it.

“This belonged to my family.” Malfoy sounded accusing, which was a bloody cheek, really.

“Well, it doesn’t now. It belongs to me.” It wasn’t like Harry had asked for his godfather to die and leave him a dirty great useless house, for god’s sake, but that’s how it was. “Anyway, if it still belonged to your family, it would have been seized by the Ministry after the war. Like–” Harry broke off. He had been about to say, Like Malfoy Manor. But maybe that wasn’t the most tactful subject to bring up. Not with Malfoy standing there looking all fierce and offended. Harry wouldn’t have mentioned it at all if Malfoy wasn’t being such a pain in the arse about everything.

The drawing room door was ajar, and Malfoy peered into the darkness. “I remember now. There was a stuffed Grindylow in a case in this room,” he said with a shudder. “Used to scare the shit out of me.” He turned back to Harry with an suspicious look. “It’s not still there, is it?”

Harry shook his head. “A lot of stuff was cleared out before I inherited it. I’m still trying to shift the rest of it.” He thought of the mummified Lethifold in the loft.

Malfoy wrinkled his forehead. “I haven’t been here since I was… I think I must have been four or five. When Walburga died. There were sort of black and grey drapes hanging all over the place, for mourning. All stiff and cobwebby. Looked even more ghastly than it does now.”

Harry had had enough of this; he didn’t need to be told what a mess it was, for god’s sake. “Look, do you actually want to stay the night here, or were you just planning to hang about on the landing for a while insulting my house?”

Malfoy looked as though he was struggling not to bite back with a retort. He blinked, then lifted his chin. “Yes, yes, I’ll stay.” He pulled the drawing room door firmly closed, making sure it clicked shut. “As long as there are no stuffed things in my room,” he said firmly.

Harry led him up to the third floor. He thought Malfoy could have the guest room with the pale grey, kind of silvery wallpaper – it was crap, because all of the rooms were crap, but maybe it was a bit less crap than some of the others. It was large, had a decent view of the garden, and quite a nice fireplace. Not that Harry cared what Malfoy thought anyway, but there was no point giving him more things to complain about. He swung the door open and stood aside to let Malfoy go in.

Malfoy didn’t say anything at first, but he looked like he was trying not to wrinkle his nose. OK, so it smelled a bit fusty, but Malfoy’s flat was hardly a palace, Harry thought.

Harry flicked his wand towards the large, lopsided wardrobe, opening the doors and directing sheets and blankets to fly out and unfold themselves in mid air, spreading neatly over the mattress. A couple of lumpy pillows followed, and the bed was ready.

“There you go,” he told Malfoy. “I know it’s not brilliant. But it’s got, you know.” Harry made a vague gesture. “Walls and stuff.”

Malfoy was still silent.

“Unlike your flat,” Harry told him, just to make it clear.

Malfoy’s jaw tightened, and he shot Harry a resentful look, but all he said, rather stiffly, was, “Yes, thank you, Potter, it’s fine.” He sank down on the bed and Harry noticed again how bone-tired he looked.

“I’ll let you get some sleep.”

It had somehow become rather late, and instead of doing any of the things he had looked forward to doing after work, Harry got undressed and got into bed himself.

The skimpy curtains didn’t reach all the way across the windows in Harry’s room, and tonight the sky was clear and dark. As was his habit, Harry picked out the constellation of Orion, then followed the line of Orion’s belt to find the twinkling Dog Star.

Sirius. The brightest star in the night sky.

Harry propped his hands behind his head and stared, unsmiling. He remembered the time when Sirius had been the brightest, the best, the most dazzling thing Harry could have dreamed of. He had promised Harry a life together, a longed-for future, and then....

Harry screwed his eyes shut and felt tears pricking behind his eyelids. The worst of it, the actual worst thing to deal with was that sometimes Harry felt so angry with Sirius, even now, for sodding off and leaving him. For dying, for bloody dying, just like everyone else. He hadn’t been so special after all.

The only thing he had left Harry was this place – a house he couldn’t seem to get on with. He had thought, in the past, about moving on. Selling up and finding a new home, a fresh start. But it felt like giving up. He felt he owed it to Sirius, to the house itself, to keep trying, but he didn’t think he would ever understand Grimmauld Place.

As he began to drift off, quite done in by the week at work and the events of the evening, he felt the house thrumming gently to itself again. It was such an odd sensation, not at all like the usual sullen reluctance that Harry felt every time he came home. He lay there for a while, suspended between consciousness and dreams, and suddenly he was able to put his finger on what was different. Grimmauld Place felt expectant. That was it, he could definitely feel it, in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck stir.

What on earth is it playing at now? Harry wondered. It made him feel wary, like the house might be up to something. Bugger, he thought. And, I should probably tell Hermione about this. But before he could think very much more, exhaustion pulled him under and he slept the sleep of the dog-tired.

~*~

In the morning, the house was silent as Harry got ready for work, and the whole thing – half-destroying Malfoy’s flat with a spell, then bringing him home and feeding him toast – seemed so unlikely that Harry started to wonder if he had dreamed it all. There were no answers to be had from the third floor landing, and the door behind which Malfoy might have stayed the night was a little bit open anyway, so in the end Harry just pushed it a couple more inches and looked inside.

He noticed two things at once: first, that the bed, once a rather meagre double, was now twice its usual size.

Second was the fact that Malfoy was laid out across it, on his front and apparently fast asleep. His hair lay in a soft sweep on the pillow, and his bare legs stretched over the mattress, the sheet having ridden up as far as his knees. Harry just stood and stared, his eyes travelling over Malfoy’s body almost against his will, lingering on the exposed skin, the lean muscle of his calves, and the shape of what was hidden under the bedclothes.

He’s naked, Harry thought, the idea somehow fixing him to the spot. He could see the smooth skin of Malfoy’s shoulders and the ridge of his shoulder blades where they peeked out above the sheet. Harry knew he shouldn’t be looking, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. Even the nape of Malfoy’s neck was fascinating, the hair clipped very short there, making Harry wonder how it would be to run his fingers over it. And lower down, he could practically see the shape of Malfoy’s arse, covered only by thin cotton.

Fuck. Harry pulled his eyes away, angry with himself. Angry with Malfoy for looking this way, for being naked in Harry’s stupid house. The walls felt like they were purring again, a low ticklish hum of interest, and Harry hated Malfoy being here like this, in fact it was the worst idea he’d ever had to invite him. When Harry let himself look at Malfoy again, Malfoy was lying on his side with his eyes open, damn, damn, damn it to hell.

“Morning, Potter,” Malfoy said, and his eyes were horribly knowing, as though he could tell exactly how long Harry had been standing there looking.

“What did you do to the bloody bed, Malfoy?” Harry snapped, because obviously that was the main problem. He’d been staring because he was trying to work out how Malfoy had gone to sleep on a perfectly normal double mattress, and woken up on some kind of super-luxury-king sized affair.

“The bed?” Malfoy asked, propping himself up on one arm to look at it with an amused expression. “Bit of an improvement, isn’t it?”

“You can’t just come in here and start Transfiguring stuff to suit yourself, you know.”

“I wasn’t actually aware I had done it, but…” Malfoy lifted pale arms over his head in a stretch, revealing a dusting of fine hair in his armpits. “Whatever happened, I had a fantastic night’s sleep.”

Malfoy had a sodding nerve, making himself at home, changing the furniture around and all the rest of it. He did seem to have made a good job of it, though. The bed looked a whole lot more inviting than Harry’s was, and the room didn’t smell stale any more; it smelled of fresh linen and warm skin. But Malfoy had no right to be lying there so perfectly at ease, as if he couldn’t care less whether he was dressed or naked, as if he had never felt so at home as stretched out on Harry’s sheets…

“I was thinking,” Malfoy said. He dropped one hand to his chest, where the sheet was draped. “About what you said about me paying you back.” His fingers brushed gently to and fro over his own skin, as though lazily scratching an itch.

“I said you didn’t need to,” Harry growled.

“I know.” Malfoy wrinkled his nose. “But really, it’s only fair… some kind of payment, you know, for letting me stay. It would make me feel a lot better about it.” He took the sheet between his fingers, keeping his eyes on Harry’s the whole time. Harry could feel beads of perspiration on his top lip. If Malfoy pulled down the sheet, Harry would…

He would...

Fuck. He didn’t exactly have a plan right now.

But Malfoy didn’t move the sheet at all. Instead, he just kept watching Harry with his eyes half-closed, looking as if he really, actually wanted Harry to say yes, as if it would make him happy or something. He was looking at Harry as if they were sharing a secret, like they both knew that Malfoy could throw back the sheet at any moment, and that he would be completely naked underneath. That he could just peel the sheet away, and Harry would be able to see everything, all of that creamy skin, the lean curves and the tight muscle, right there on that massive bloody bed, every inch of Malfoy, waiting for Harry.

The room felt too hot, drops of sweat gathering at Harry’s temples, and now the house was doing that thing again, the same but worse, so that Harry could feel the walls pulsing with some kind of eager energy.

“So if you think of anything,” Malfoy continued. “About how I could do it?”, and the way Malfoy spoke made it sound like a challenge, like exactly the kind of thing that Harry would do without thinking twice.

And oh, Harry could so easily let himself do this, could so easily take advantage of what Malfoy was offering. How simple it would be, to lie down next to Malfoy and let himself do everything he wanted. Harry didn’t know how to do very much, but it wouldn’t matter, would it? Not if Malfoy was doing this to pay Harry back. Merlin, Harry wouldn’t even need to touch, just looking would be enough.

Malfoy lay back on the pillow, his eyes daring Harry to make a move. It would be so good, wouldn’t it, and Malfoy had said that nobody needed to know. Harry wet his lips, and then as Malfoy tilted his head a little, Harry saw the shadow of a bruise on his neck. It was a fat oval, the size and shape of a thumbprint, and Harry realised with a twist deep in his guts that it must have been from that bastard customer of Malfoy’s.

God, what was Harry thinking? This was sick, totally sick. There had to be something seriously wrong with him, coming in to leer at Malfoy while he was a guest in Harry’s house. Malfoy had no choice about any of this, did he? He didn’t have any money, but he still felt he had to pay. So he offered Harry the only thing he could give him – sex. And Harry was fucked up enough to actually consider it.

A wave of anger and self-hatred washed over him. “You stayed here one night, that’s fine,” Harry told him, and his voice came out much more roughly than he’d intended. “Now you need to get your flat fixed up, or find somewhere else.” He sounded disgusted, and he was – at his own weakness.

Malfoy looked for a moment like Harry had Hexed him. He sat up, pulling the sheet up over his chest, and his face took on the haughty look Harry had seen before. “Of course. That’s what I was planning.”

Harry let out a sigh. “Good.”

“The landlord will be thrilled,” Malfoy said, his lips pulling into a sarcastic smile. “He’s been waiting for an excuse to chuck me out.”

“Your landlord can’t chuck you out for an accident.”

“Can’t he? Great. That’ll be very comforting to remember, when it happens. But that’s fine,” Malfoy said sourly. “I’ll be glad to be out of that old place.”

Harry felt another lurch of guilt. “Hold on. Yesterday, you said–”

Malfoy didn’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I’ve remembered someone I can stay with. It’s no problem,” he said, too quickly to be convincing.

Harry was pretty sure he was lying, but he didn’t see what the fuck he could do about it. There was a throbbing tension in his temples, and he needed to get to work. “Look, I’m not saying you can’t stay a bit longer, but–”

What was it Harry wanted to say? Don’t sleep naked?

Don’t look at me that way?

Don’t have those legs and those eyes and that mouth and–

Ugh. The whole thing was impossible.

“It’s probably best if you go,” Harry said, and the words felt like cold, hard pebbles in his mouth. Malfoy just nodded, his hair flopping forwards onto his face.

“Go and get your flat sorted,” Harry continued. “Your landlord doesn’t have to know. I can pay for the Charms to fix the damage–”

“No.” Malfoy spat the words out. “I told you, I don’t want handouts.”

Harry let out a short huff of breath. Malfoy was so bloody stubborn. “All right then. But if you needed to stay another night while you’re working things out…” He swallowed hard. “You can, OK? Don’t sleep on the streets.”

“I’ll be fine, Potter. I’ll be gone in five minutes.”

“I’m late for work.” Harry turned to go, then turned back. “Eat something before you go.”

Malfoy waved a dismissive hand.

“Just eat something, Malfoy.” Harry frowned. “Everyone needs to eat. There’s bread and eggs, probably some bacon and stuff. I always buy too much, it’ll only go off otherwise. Have what you like.”

Malfoy didn’t answer, but reached for the shirt which was lying on the floor.

“I’ll see you… sometime,” Harry told him.

“Yeah, right,” Malfoy said, his face twisted into something scornful.

Harry’s fists were clenched at his sides as he left. That was the last time he would try to help Malfoy out, that was for certain.

~*~

“You all right, mate?” Ron bent over Harry as he lay on the mat, winded.

“Yeah,” Harry managed to pant out.

“You’re all over the place today,” Ron told him. “That Propellio should never have got under your guard.”

Harry pushed himself up on one arm and took some ragged breaths. “Just lost focus. I’ll be fine in a minute.”

Auror Travis walked over and stood looking down at Harry. “Take a break, Potter. You’re duelling like a piece of shit. Come back when you can block a first year charm without hitting the mat.”

Harry took another shallow breath, his eyebrows drawing together. Bloody Travis. Harry didn’t want special treatment – but the trainee supervisor pulled him up on every little thing so that Harry had to be twice as good as everyone else. He got to his feet, ignoring the dull pain in his ribs, and brushed down his scarlet practice robes. “I’m fine. I don’t need a break,” he said.

“Less of the attitude.” Travis regarded him with dislike. “OK, then… you pair with McCarthy. Expulso drill. Ten each, then swap. You’d better make sure you don’t lose concentration, Potter, or we’ll be scraping bits of you off the walls.”

Merlin. But at least McCarthy wasn’t so bad, flashing Harry a sympathetic smile as she joined him at the mats. Somehow Harry managed to get through the forty minutes until lunch without losing any major parts of himself, although his ears were ringing and he reckoned he was going to feel like he’d taken a Bludger to the ribs for a day or so.

He and Ron took the lift to the canteen and joined the queue of hungry Ministry workers.

“So what did Robards want when he called you in first thing? He seemed pretty pissed off.” Ron accepted a bowl of soup from the serving wizard. “Pumpkin and leek again? That’s the third time this week.”

Harry suppressed a sigh. Surprise surprise, it turned out that according to Robards, going alone to answer the cry for help last night had not been at all the right thing to do.

“You ask to be treated like everyone else, and then you go and pull this sort of shit. You’re a bloody trainee, Potter, if you happened to have forgotten – and even Senior Aurors work with a partner.”

“Some procedural crap,” Harry said, taking a plate heaped high with lasagne.

“Not again. What was it this time? Oh.” Ron had reached the witch doling out chips. “Yes, please, Ange.” He gave her a smile evidently intended to charm. “Few more?”

Rather than answer, Harry moved along quickly, past bowls of rhubarb crumble and jugs of custard. By the time they’d filled their trays and found a vacant table, Ron had thankfully forgotten what they’d been talking about, telling Harry instead all about the match last night and how he’d really missed out by not seeing the way the Malawians had flown.

It wasn’t that Harry didn’t want Ron to know what had happened, exactly... it was just that it hadn’t yet seemed the right moment to tell Ron that Malfoy had ended up naked in Harry’s guest bedroom.

OK, he definitely didn’t want Ron to know.

It was way too complicated to explain. Harry should never have got involved. Except that maybe, if Harry hadn’t stepped in, Malfoy would have been found dead in the morning. Throttled to death by some cheating arsehole, some fucker who had picked Malfoy up, used him for sex, and then didn’t even think him worthy of payment…

Harry sighed. Malfoy would be long gone by the time Harry got home, anyway, and he need never think about it again. He wouldn’t walk that way home any more. Malfoy had made his choices, and none of it was anything to do with Harry–

“Mate?” Ron’s voice cut into his thoughts and Harry realised he’d been staring into space. “Blimey, you’re miles away. What is the matter with you today?”

Harry gave himself a little shake. “Nothing. Just tired.”

“Yeah.” Ron looked at Harry’s plate. “Are you going to eat that? Because if not, I can probably–”

“Oi,” Harry said, pulling the plate closer. Auror training was so intensely physical that their appetites were usually pretty impressive. Today was no different, even if Harry did have things weighing on his mind. “No, I’m having it. Go and chat Angie up if you want seconds.”

Ron pushed his chair back and stood up. “I think I will. You want anything else?”

“Coffee with a shot of Reviving potion, if they’ve got any,” Harry said. “Get through the afternoon.”

“We all need a break. Thank Merlin it’s the weekend, right?”

Harry thought about it. He hadn’t made any firm plans yet, and the prospect of spending more time at Grimmauld Place on his own suddenly made him feel a pang of self-pity in his chest. He forced a smile. “Yeah. Great.”

Ron strolled off towards the counter again, whistling, and Harry turned his attention to his forkful of lukewarm lasagne.

~*~

They finished at five on Fridays, and Harry turned down the offer of drinks at the Cat and Cauldron, taking the Floo straight back to Grimmauld Place instead.

It was worse than he’d expected. The house wasn’t just empty and a bit shabby; it felt heavy with disappointment, and slightly offended, as if Harry had done something to betray it.

Don’t be ridiculous, Harry, he imagined Hermione saying. How can a house feel offended?

It did, though, and it made Harry feel all shifty and uncomfortable. He nearly turned around and went straight out again, but instead squared his shoulders and climbed the stairs to his room to change out of his uniform. It only took a minute to pull on a pair of joggers and an old jumper, but rather than heading down to the kitchen, he paused on the landing and listened.

There was nothing to hear, of course. Harry could tell that Malfoy had gone from the way Grimmauld Place felt, and he had to remind himself he should be relieved to have the house to himself again.

Maybe he should check Malfoy hadn’t done anything else stupid to the room before he left. Or maybe you just want to see if he’s still there, a little voice suggested. He climbed the stairs, walking slowly and hesitating outside the silver-grey room before opening the door.

It was completely empty, with everything back to normal, as if Malfoy had never been there. The miserly-looking bed, the smell of neglect. There was certainly no pleasurable hum of anticipation… only the sulky, brooding air of hurt feelings.

“I haven’t done anything,” Harry said. It was so bloody unfair. He let the door slam behind him and stomped downstairs to the kitchen, his boots scuffing on the bare treads of the stairs.

~*~

Perdita Tanglefoot was crooning her finest on the WWN, Harry had cracked open a bottle of Harpstring, and the homely smells of roast chicken, rosemary and thyme were spreading through the room. Harry wiped his hands on his apron and sipped at his cold beer. It wasn’t so bad here – not all the time. Maybe he would have another go at the hall and stairs this weekend, blast that final house-elf head to bits if that was the only way to get it off, and get some new curtains for his room. Harry gave the gravy another stir. He was lucky to have a house of his own; it could be a hell of a lot worse.

And if it got a little lonely sometimes, well, it was nothing Harry couldn’t handle–

A loud crack startled the hell out of him and he spun around to see a dishevelled Draco Malfoy appear and fall heavily against the kitchen table.

Shit,” said Malfoy. He had a large leather case with him, rather like an old-fashioned doctor’s bag, and was bleeding profusely from a cut on his cheek.

“What the–?” Harry asked.

“I’m sorry,” Malfoy panted. “Shit,” he repeated. He straightened up, but held onto a chair for support.

“How did you get in?” Harry demanded. There was no way anyone should have been able to Apparate through the wards. “God, you’re bleeding.”

Malfoy put a hand to his face and flinched when he saw the blood.

“Hold on,” Harry said, getting his wand out of his pocket. “Stay still a minute.” It was a nasty gash, but he was able to knit the skin together with a couple of spells.

“I Apparated without thinking,” Malfoy said. “Give me a minute and I’ll go again.”

“But what’s happened? How did you get in?” Harry persisted. An unpleasant suspicion occurred to him. “Did you do something to the wards when you were here last night?”

Malfoy gave him a filthy look. “No, I bloody didn’t. I came here in a panic – I wasn’t thinking straight. My arsehole of a landlord had me at wandpoint, if you want to know.”

“What?” Harry noticed Malfoy’s hands were shaking. “Sit down a minute,” Harry told him, pulling out a chair. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

Malfoy sank into the chair with relief. “I don’t think so.” He put his head in his hands. “What a mess.”

Harry rooted in the fridge for another bottle of Harpstring and passed it over. “Here.”

Malfoy took a long, grateful swig.

“I’ll Floo the Aurors,” Harry told him.

“No!” Malfoy looked aghast. “Please, don’t do that.”

Harry frowned. “Why not? What the hell happened?”

Malfoy shook his head. “I waited till it was dark, then went back to the flat to get my stuff. I knew he’d never pay for the repairs, but it was high time I moved on anyway. I was just packing a bag when he arrived.”

Malfoy took another gulp of beer. “He went completely nuts when he saw the damage. Said if I paid up there and then, he might just mess my face up a bit rather than kill me.” Harry saw a shiver run right through Malfoy. “As you can see, he made a start on that. Of course I didn’t have any money. He knocked my wand out of my hand and then–” Malfoy broke off and took an unsteady breath, then said in a detached voice. “He said he would enjoy cutting up a dirty whore like me.”

“Is he still at the flat? I’ll go myself,” said Harry, fury rising up in him, hot and fierce, ready to Apparate on the spot–

“No.” Malfoy grabbed Harry’s arm. “He’ll have gone. For god’s sake leave it or you’ll make things worse. The Aurors would twist it round and make it my fault somehow. It’s OK. I fought him off – I don’t need a wand to hurt a man. I managed to grab my bag and my wand and then Apparated to the first safe place I could think of.”

“He needs locking up.” It came out low and rough, and Malfoy blinked at the sound. “I can make sure he can’t do anything to you,” Harry told him.

“I told you before,” Malfoy snarled. “I don’t need rescuing.”

“He’s a psycho, Malfoy. It’s not just you that needs to be kept safe from him.” Something else occurred to Harry, and he squinted at Malfoy. “You Apparated to the first safe place you could think of?”

“Yes, of course.” Malfoy nodded.

“Which happened to be my kitchen?”

Malfoy looked furious. “I told you I wasn’t thinking straight. There was a wand at my throat.”

Harry tried to keep his face neutral, but honestly, he had no idea how he should feel about this.

Malfoy scowled, but his cheeks were turning pink. “It’s not my fault your stupid wards let me in. You’d better get them checked. Anyway, I’ll go now. Thanks for the drink.”

He came to Grimmauld Place. To me, Harry thought, and he felt the house give a little flutter.

“Wait.” Harry held out a hand. “You can’t go out there now.”

“I can do what the fuck I please.” Malfoy’s eyes flashed defiance.

Harry sighed. “You need Dittany on that cut, or it’ll scar. I’ve got some upstairs.” Malfoy might be the most difficult bugger Harry had ever met, but there was no way he could let him walk out like this. He was pretty sure Malfoy had nowhere to go, despite what he said, and he knew bloody well that Malfoy would end up on the streets if he let him leave. Harry looked at Malfoy, the pulse jumping in his narrow throat, his skinny hands clenched in his lap.

“Besides, I’ve made too much roast chicken,” Harry told him, and watched Malfoy’s nostrils flare.

“Is that what I can smell?” Malfoy asked, quite aloof. Perdita Tanglefoot was still singing in the background, something about taking a chance.

“Yep,” Harry said. “Far too much for one person to eat. You might as well have some.” He waited a minute, then when Malfoy didn’t move, he passed him another beer.

“OK, then,” Malfoy said. He looked doubtful, but: “I can stay for a while, I suppose.” He managed to make it sound as though he was doing Harry a favour.

Harry opened the oven door and peered at the roast. Another fifteen minutes and it would be about ready. Just enough time to put the veg on to boil.

As he moved around the kitchen, getting out plates and cutlery, part of him was wondering what on earth he had let himself in for. He didn’t see what else he could do – he couldn’t turn Malfoy out on the streets again, could he? But Harry didn’t feel exactly confident about where things were going from here. He tried to pretend Malfoy wasn’t there, lose himself again in the rhythm of preparing the meal, but it was hard, when he could feel Malfoy’s eyes on him as he washed a few extra sprigs of fresh herbs for the gravy.

“Why do you cook like a Muggle?” Malfoy asked.

Harry frowned. “It’s just cooking. You don’t have to use magic for everything.”

“You don’t have a house-elf to do it?”

“No,” Harry said. “Kreacher’s retired. He was getting really old.”

Malfoy gave a quiet snort at the word retired, but didn’t say anything.

“Besides, I enjoy it,” Harry said. “I was brought up by Muggles, you know?”

“Muggles? Really? When you were a child?”

“Yeah,” Harry told him. “”I had to do all the cooking, and I got pretty good at it.”

“Muggles made you work for them? You?” Malfoy sounded truly appalled.

Harry laughed. “That wasn’t the half of it,” he said. He hadn’t intended to get into this with Malfoy at all. “But the point is, magic is great, but sometimes it… kind of distances you from stuff.”

He began to chop the thyme and sage in a way that would have made Snape proud. “I like to be hands on with stuff, you know?” Harry said. “It’s more satisfying. I like things that feel real.” He rocked the blade over the herbs, deft and rhythmic, then looked up to see Malfoy staring at his hands, watching every movement. Malfoy’s eyes looked a bit glazed, but then, Harry thought, he was probably still in shock from what had happened earlier. And there was a strong possibility he hadn’t eaten all day.

Harry checked the oven again. “Nearly ready,” he said, trying to sound as though chatting with Draco Malfoy while making dinner was something that happened all the time, and not really fucking weird.

The worst of it was, the house felt sodding gleeful.